The 4-minute Mile of Personal Change

Bad things happen to good people. Some of those people live the rest of their lives defined by those bad things.

Most people would agree that it’s better to overcome those bad experiences, and move on (not to say it’s easy to do so). A life fueled by resentment is a life wasted.

The question I want to raise is not whether to recover, but when.  Just how long does it take to recover from a low point and move forward? How fast can a human being recover from grief, betrayal, and anger?  I’m not talking about short-cutting by means of denial; I’m talking about genuine recovery from emotional disaster.

Is there a four-minute mile barrier of recovery? What are the natural limits to human change?

Julie’s Story

I know Julie. She was estranged from her alcoholic father, reconciling only on his deathbed. A few years later, her mother, with whom she was very close, died as well. Julie was grief-stricken, worn down with sadness at work and with her children; she was barely functioning on autopilot.

After a year, she visited a psychologist. “I spent the entire first meeting crying,” she told me. At the second meeting, the counsellor asked her, “What do you admire in both your parents that you’d wish to perpetuate?”

“I was dumbstruck,” she said. “I sat there for 3 full minutes, thinking about the implications for my life. Everything fell into place. I thanked the shrink profusely, left before my time was up, and never went back.”

That was five years ago. Julie is upbeat, strong, productive and a huge positive force for good in all those she meets.

Rachel’s Story

I know Rachel, an extremely successful woman. She told me her husband had cheated on her some years ago, but that they had reconciled and were now very happy.

“You look fine now,” I said, “but that must have been hard. How long did it take you to get over it?”

“It was awful,” she said. “It must have taken me a week.”

“A week?” I asked incredulously.

She explained that she had let work get in the way of their sex life, but that she enjoyed sex too and why let the past get in the way of a great and full life going forward?

“And if he cheated again?” I asked.

“Oh, it’d be all over,” she laughed. “You only get one second chance with me.”

Jill’s Story

I don’t know Jill Bolte Taylor, but she has given one of the more powerful TED talks of all time, as well as having written a powerful book. A brain scientist who had a stroke, she was uniquely qualified to observe what was happening to her – and, it turns out, to learn from the experience.

To over-simplify, she already knew the profoundly different perspectives of the right and left hemispheres of our brains. One is logical, cognitive, ego-protecting and fearful. The other is universal, joyful, connected and without fear.

But through her stroke, Jill discovered we have enormous control over which part of our brain we choose to live through. In her words:

“Before my stroke, I thought I was a product of my brain and had no idea that I had some say about how I responded to the emotions surging through me. On an intellectual level, I realized that I could monitor and shift my cognitive thoughts, but it never dawned on me that I had some say in how I perceived my emotions.

“No one told me that it only took 90 seconds for my biochemistry to capture, and then release me.”

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey

How long does it take to achieve escape velocity from our responses? How long is the emotional 4-minute mile?

A brain scientist tells us: 90 seconds. You are a slave to your neuro-chemistry – for 90 seconds.

After that – it’s all on you. If you stay there, it begins to be your own doing.

Making It Work

Jill Bolte’s recommendations are along the lines of meditation.

For others, the serenity prayer works powerfully.

And if sweetness and light is not your cup of tea, there’s the in-your-face-cold-shower-with-obscenities approach embodied in Julien Smith’s excellent eBook The Flinch.

I can’t tell you how – you must work with what you’ve got. But I can tell you – or rather, Julie, Rachel and Jill can tell you – that the four-minute mile of emotional jiu-jitsu is 90 seconds.

Ten Steps to Positioning Your Firm for the Recovery

The stock market called the recovery 12 months ago.

The GDP is now rebounding. It certainly looks like a recovery. And if it looks like a recovery, quacks like a recovery, and walks like a recovery—well, you know the rest, and it might not be too soon to think about how your firm is positioning itself to take advantage.

Exactly when your business, or at least segments of it, will experience the recovery probably differs from other businesses. This looks to be a slow, differentiated recovery; your mileage may vary.

But whatever your timeframe, there are certain general rules that may help you take advantage of the turn when it does come around.

Ten Steps to Capitalizing on the Emerging (Economic) Recovery

These thoughts, courtesy of an occasional discussion group I’m part of (see author list) are aimed mainly at professional services firms, but in many ways will fit general business as well.

1.      What changes are now needed in your business acquisition strategy? Which relationships should you seek to strengthen, and where do you selectively want to plant new ones? 

2.      Business developers: Do a searching and fearless inventory of your past clients and high probability past prospects (particularly those who almost said yes but postponed).   Allocate responsibilities—get ready to triage.

3.      Service offerings: which of your offerings best helps which of your client types to build their performance in early recovery? Which of your clients’ businesses are poised for growth first?

4.      Help define your clients’ recovery-driven issues together with your clients. They may still be in siege mentality.  How is this recovery different, for them, from previous ones—what’s is new this time around? How take advantage of those differences? Again—discuss this with your clients.

5.      Pricing: move to mildly more aggressive; say no to discretionary discount requests.

6.      Raise your minimum size, scope, and duration thresholds for saying ‘yes.’

7.      Figure out to whom you’ll say ‘no.’ Use relationship-propensity as a screen–turn down the one-offs.

8.      The scarcest resource is always good people, so the best time hire is early in the recovery cycle. For many of you, that means now.

9.      What do you want to do more of? What have you been doing during recession that you’d like now to do less of? Is it time to re-balance and re-align selected resources from the likely conservative assumptions of a budget you built six months ago?

10. As others of your clients move into recovery mode—how can you become a prospective partner? What can you do in advance to set the stage?

Is Recessionary Thinking Killing Off Your Green Shoots?

I belong to a group of peers; we meet semi-monthly to discuss whatever business issues we see. Lately, we’re seeing a theme emerge.

Most businesses been operating under stressful circumstances for at least the last 12 months. For most organizations, profits were down (or non-existent), resulting in considerable price/service pressure from clients/buyers/customers.

So it’s not surprising that, as we end this difficult calendar/fiscal year, many are still painfully looking in the rear view mirror as we consider how to address the new year.

But, in doing so, we may well miss a turn — an opportunity to take advantage of the "green shoots" by thinking differently about our organizations and about how to get the most out of our people.

The Market Has Driven Focus Away from Teams

In the midst of all of the recent economic pressure, there has been a common return to focus on individual performance and a movement away from collaboration and collegiality.

Perhaps some of this shift is valid, because a tough market penalizes lingering mediocrity, but the pendulum has swung to the business equivalent of baseball’s VORP (value over replacement player).

But successful organizations are rarely built by teams of super-heroes. Most extraordinary unit performance is a function of ordinary beings banding together to strengthen each other’s weaknesses and to collectively make whole greater than the sum of the individual parts.

The cost-cutting and recession-based inward thinking which we’ve all had to endure for the past year drives us to self-absorbed, protectionist, fear-based behavior.  And just as solo behavior doesn’t drive great success, neither can you save or cost-cut your way to prosperity.

Sling-shotting Your Way Into Recovery

We have no insight into the timing of the recovery. But one thing is clear. The firms that will benefit the most, when recovery does come, will be those that have managed to think their way out of the rear-view mirror mentality. In particular, those who have managed to re-discover collaboration.

Collaboration is something that can help ‘slingshot’ us out of recessionary thinking.  Team behavior can accomplish extraordinary things with ordinary people.  Collaboration fuels innovation, and feeds souls.  All that drives financial bottom lines too.

Leaders need to manage the tension between surviving in the short term and leading towards the medium term. Leaders need to help pull/push people out of the scary place we’ve been in, focused—of necessity, to be sure—on survival.

Collaboration responds to the need to motivate people, refocus their efforts, and ignite their spirit. And you don’t have to wait for the recovery to get there. In fact, getting there probably, in its own small way, helps kick start the recovery.

Doing Collaboration from Trust Principles

Collaboration is, in fact, one of the Four Trust Principles  (the others being client focus, relationships over transactions, and transparency).
There’s no single simple tool to being collaborative, and each organization will vary in its approach. But a serious effort at being more collaborative will probably include some of the following:

  • Goal setting—done collaboratively
  • Spending time together
  • Getting to know each other
  • Speaking directly to each other
  • Speaking about more things to each other
  • Developing common language
  • Skewing incentives and rewards toward groups
  • Honest and transparent leadership
  • Clear, repetitive articulation of the philosophy of collaboration by leadership

Development is back on the table. If it’s not yet on your table, ask yourself when you think the recovery is going to happen—and how far in advance of it you need to starting consciously thinking about shifting perspectives.

Discuss it collaboratively with your team.