Focus

She had heard it said that you create your own reality, write your own story, you are the artist, the craftsman, the one holding the brush, the pen. She wondered how true this was, or if it was taken too literally. She had also heard it said that it is what you focus on that drives reality. Head in the sand or purposeful focus. Thoughts were also to be observed/examined carefully because they drove actions and word. She found it helpful to reflect in the third person, maybe she was onto something. What was she focusing on, thinking and what story was she writing?

Life provides experiences that can be unwanted and downright unfair. She could not fully believe that everything was willfully created by individuals. It was too big and confusing a notion to wrap her head around. Nobody individually wants or willingly creates getting bombed for example. Due to examples such as these, she found focus made the most sense, The little moments in life that are sometimes ignored, missed, not paid attention to because she could be stuck in her own head or focusing on problems, potentially missing solutions.

This past week she had found herself focusing on things a bit differently, for example, after writing she decided to go to a meeting, alone. She picked up her youngest little one afterwards.

Before she left she had found the song Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)  by C+C Music Factory – ft. Freedom Williams and had posted it on Facebook in support of a man who had been fined by the police for singing this song out loud in his car. It had been one of her favorite songs at that time. She fully intended to play it in her car on the way.

In her car, the video would not load. She should have downloaded it onto her phone instead of playing the video but she had to leave in order to be on time at the meeting. So she just played other music along the way. Then she got to the corner of Helen-Rochester and St-Jacques and spotted a cop on the corner. The video just started to play, effortlessly at that moment. So she blasted it and started to laugh out loud. She felt like life had given her a little wink. She felt supported by unseen, loving energy.

She arrived at the meeting on time.  A friend came to say hello. It had been a while since they had seen each other or even talked. She was grateful this friend was kind. She had somehow expected that some people may not be. Perhaps it was her being hard on her own self and projecting that outwards.

One of the readings was the Just for Today. On this day the theme was about letting go of the need to control.  «We can also use the steps to improve our attitudes. » …….Ever have a day when everything seems to be working against you? What about when you find yourself snapping at your co-worker or loved one for no reason? When we find ourselves in this bleak frame of mind, we need to take action……..We examine how we are reacting to outside situations and other people. When we do, we may find that we are suffering from a plain old “bad attitude.” When we are honest with ourselves, we frequently find that the problem lies with us and our attitude. We have no control over the challenges life gives us. What we can control is how we react to those challenges. At any point in time, we can change our attitude……….Just for today: Throughout the day, I will check my attitude. I will apply the steps to improve it. »

Appropriate under her circumstances, specifically where she had the most difficulty right now. What would she focus on? How she reacted perhaps?

Things got more interesting. If she had ever wondered if the Universe listened or if it did send signs, she need not wonder any more. The reading was the 11th step – about meditation and connecting to your «higher power» or as she liked to call her «source energy». She had begun to meditate earlier that week, not consistently everyday but baby steps.

Then came what she heard, or liked to call the golden nuggets. People were sharing about how they could be mean, unappreciative and controlling when they thought they knew better, or when things were not going the way they thought they should. MIRRORS anyone? She listened to them.  Then there was a lady who was celebrating… Her mother had joined her and her daughter and her children. As she observed this gorgeous family she recalled how her mom had come to her celebrations until she no longer could. She recalled how her own mother had been her biggest supporter, loved and her and was so proud. She realized she was seeing gifts – the clarity she had asked for and was starting to receive was coming in like flood gates. She was so very moved, she started to cry. In front of people. She did not care – this was release. The readings, the shares, and the particular subjects they were addressing were very therapeutic and exactly what she need at this moment. She felt a bit of that serenity. She felt relieved. So she decided to share that she was grateful and appreciative of these meetings. She had to say thank you. She could not get into all the details, those were not hers to share.

Then the cake the little ones and daughter had made for this lovely lady. The cake was very colorful. The wasps of color represented paintbrush strokes because she was an artist, the berries dipped in white chocolate were made to look like rocks because she loved rock collecting and geology and finally the sparkles because she loves sparkly things.  She heard and watched this. Again the waves of tears. She had loved rocks ever since she was 4, loved to paint and loved fireworks and sparkly things. She took a picture of that cake. The lady’s mother came to see her and said «stay frail – stay frail because then you are open, if you stay hard, nothing can get in». This mother with clear blue eyes who made her think of her own mom had given her a message. Could it be any clearer? She was on the right track, she did not have to be hard to get through.

The lady who came to her and asked about her daughter. This lady’s daughter is 20 and lives in across the country and had issues due to her choices. She explained the very spiritual steps that we had discussed at the meeting helped. She was one of the people who shared about being mean sometimes without realizing it, thinking she knew everything. She said «I always let her know I am there for her, that I love her and that is all I can do. » She heard the message. She had been doing exactly that and it was time to realize it, accept it and let it go, surrender.

She had a wonderful day with her little one. The way he tilted his head and looked at her reminded her of her mom at the end. The next morning, she scrolled to this free guided meditation from DavidJi about Emotional Healing. The timing was once again perfect. She said a silent thank you to the Universe. She was appreciative and happy.

The morning when she was walking to the subway station and a leaf was floating around and landed right in her purse pocket. She went to work out at the gym for the first time in ages. She went after work. It was very busy. She was in her own little zone. She decided to try going early in the morning. That was the ticket. After the work out the next morning, she was so happy. This became her new routine. The morning workouts to music she loved, for herself.

Things were manageable at work; for the most part. She was aware when she felt overwhelmed. It was a sign she had bought into the illusion that everything is an emergency. She was happy to realize it. She had to believe, because she reflected that every time in the past where she had felt this way, things had always worked out. And even if they didn’t, what was the point in focusing on nonsense? It changed absolutely nothing. She recalled how difficult it had been for her to accept her mom had Alzheimer’s and was slipping away. She reflected that perhaps if she had not paid any attention to it at all, her time with her mom could have been different. The outcome would have been the same either way. She was no longer here but if she had ignored that condition, her mom would still not be here BUT she would have felt better during the time she had with her – lofty theory. She thought she would try that with her daughter.

Her daughter asked to see her on Thursday. They had a conversation in the car and then went grocery shopping. Her daughter shared things with her so she focused on the open dialogue. Maybe not all was lost. Each person has their path to live and we are not here to control the children. They are but gifts, not possessions to control. Experience can be shared but not dictated to another. She realized she left work without having completed her list of things she wanted to complete. She decided so be it. Family was more important. The Universe would just work it out somehow. She felt her mom’s presence for a while.

The day of her birthday, when she realized the little bud in her African violet, named after her mom, Tessie, was starting to open. She was certain this was a gift from her mom. She had been missing her mom terribly this week. Something about November got to her. Her birthday, her mom’s and her second dad all had birthdays in November. She was thankful to be able to feel those emotions and remembered all the wonderful things her mom would do for her birthday. The butterfly cakes, and then later on lemon meringue pie. Butterfly cake sounded like a plan.

The Friday night getting together with her daughter when they went for a drive to the Mountain. The moon was full that night. Her daughter talked to her about loss, grief, pain and all the things she could relate to. She listened, no judgment, because everything she was hearing, she had herself experienced. She shared her feelings too and told her daughter she loved her no matter what, she would be there for her. She took pictures of that gorgeous moon. A full moon, a flower, and her daughter at one of her favorite places, where she used to go with her daughter’s dad on her birthday? Life was indeed grand.

Her son in law had kindly informed her that her little man had asked if he could go to her place on Friday night. She picked him up after the meeting with her daughter. Another birthday gift, she thought to herself. She had a brownie mix and would make a butterfly brownie, ice it a decorate it to look like a butterfly. Her and her little one would eat birthday cake together. It was wonderful, especially the part where he came up to her on the couch and just snuggled with her for a while, as they listened to children songs. In that moment, all was truly well.

The morning coffee taken outside with her little one, as they discussed what he wanted from Santa. He examined her tomato, pepper and flower plants. A flock of birds flew by. She sipped her coffee. He told her there were clowns and zombies in her backyard. Good clowns, not creepy ones. She looked outside. She reflected that the ocean and beaches she adored would always be her favorite places, however she realized there was something equally special about her own backyard. It was filled with wonders if one just focused and used their imagination. Leaves were scattered in the yard, and there were those that were stubborn, hanging on to their respective trees. Different colors. As she sipped her coffee and her little one finished his piece of butterfly cake, he informed her that a clown was playing in those leaves. How fun she thought. Her little one asked her if she could see the clown, she wondered if the clown could see them. She recalled one of her first pieces of writing entitled «Coffee and butterflies». Ironic she thought, today was a coffee and butterfly kind of day.

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PLAYING TO WIN VERSUS PLAYING NOT TO LOSE

The last couple of weeks have been busy, to say the least. Feelings of overwhelm at work , while trying to move on in other areas of my life while remaining as positive as possible and looking to the areas in my life that are easier, has been a bit more difficult than I would prefer. I did not even write last week. Saturday was so beautiful that I headed out early in the morning and played tourist in my city. I suppose I could have written about that, and perhaps I will soon. I just could not bring myself to open my computer last weekend. It reminded me of work and I really did not want to think about that for the weekend. I know these times pass and this is life. This week, I was given a little nugget to reflect upon.

I was sitting with a senior manager in our team. He is new and we were reviewing a client scoping document to present to the partner. He noted a few semi-colons missing and I would say “Sorry, that is my attention to detail, I am working on that.” Then we discussed wording. He had some very valid points and I learned from the review. Once we were finished, he told me that I apologize far too much for little things. He perceived that there is a sense of not wanting to get things wrong and apologizing when they do. I just started at him. You see, this “new guy” is different from the other senior managers I have worked with in the recent past. He is positive, easy going while respecting the quality that we have as our mission.

He told me about this article he had read Playing to win versus playing NOT to lose. In this article about athletes, it stated that they perform better when they are playing towards achieving a wanted goal. When athletes were coached to perform in order to prevent something unwanted, they did not perform as well. He had experienced with both mind sets and he knew what it felt like to play not to lose. His advice was that I play to win.

So I did some research.

How this applied to Athletes

The article Don’t Choke: The Difference Between Playing to Win, and Playing Not to Lose, by John O’Sullivan, investigates the two mind sets. The article studied the research performed over penalty kick shootouts in professional soccer, which are used to determine a winner in knockout competitions such as the World Cup. “Researches Gier Jordet and Esther Hartman studied the conversion rate of penalty takers who were kicking the final shot of a penalty shootout. They compared the following scenarios:

  • The shooter’s team was down by a goal and he had to make the kick to tie; if he missed, the team would lose
  • The shooter’s team was tied, and he did not have to make the shot, but if he did, the team would win the game

Jordet and Hartman found that in the first scenario, when missing the kick would cause the team to lose, professional players only converted 62% of those shots. However, when conversion would result in a win, kickers were successful 92% of the time! Same kick, same distance, same target, but a 30% improvement when the player was shooting to win, and not shooting NOT to lose.”

The article leaves the reader with the question: “Have I framed today’s competition as a challenge to be aspired to, or a threatening test where the consequences of failure are grave.”

Application for the “business world”

I felt like I was getting some clarity over my feelings of dissatisfaction at work. So I did more research. I am not an athlete and lucky me, I found another article from the Harvard Business Review entitled “Do You Play to Win—or to Not Lose?” by Heidi Grant and E. Tory Higgins. This article examines in what kinds of situations are people most effective and what factors strengthen—or undermine—their motivation. The two types they present are as follows: promotion focused or prevention focused individuals.

Promotion-focused people

Prevention-focused people

work quickly work slowly and deliberately
consider lots of alternatives and are great brainstormers tend to be accurate
are open to new opportunities are prepared for the worst
are optimists are stressed by short deadlines
plan only for best-case scenarios stick to tried-and-true ways of doing things
seek positive feedback and lose steam without it are uncomfortable with praise or optimism
feel dejected or depressed when things go wrong feel worried or anxious when things go wrong

I feel I fit in the promotion focused side of the table. According to the article, prevention focused people tend to work in administration, bookkeepers, accountants, technicians, and manufacturing workers. Work where knowledge of rules and regulations, careful execution, and a propensity for thoroughness and jobs in which attention to detail is what really pays off.

On the other hand, promotion-focused people are likely to seek work in areas such as musicians, copywriters, inventors, and consultants, where thinking outside the box jobs being creative and innovative is the key and being practical is not emphasized.

Ironically, I am a Chartered Accountant, however I work in the Advisory department of my accounting firm, as a Management consultant. No wonder I sometimes feel uninspired and confused  about my work.

How to provide instructions

Then, the kicker is the article goes on to discuss an experiment given to people to write a report. One set of instructions was to fit a promotion focused individual. They were told to imagine a convenient time, and a comfortable, quiet place to write the report where the individual visualized themselves capturing as many details and making the report interesting. That sounds like a really good idea to me. I love it.

The other set of instructions was to fit prevention focused individuals. They were told to imagine a time that would be inconvenient, uncomfortable and include lots of distractions for writing to avoid them and to visualize not forgetting any details and being careful not to make the report bland or boring. This is my work environement in a nutshell when it comes to reports. In my case, I am told to make sure my report is not unstructured and I am always told not to forget details. At my work, I am constantly told to improve my French report writing skills and to pay attention to detail. The new senior manager is of the opinion that I have been repeated this far too much. I would tend to agree.

I work with prevention focused people and I am getting the sense that I am a promotion focused person. The results? “Students who received instructions suited to their dominant motivational focus were about 50% more likely than others to turn in their reports.”

Giving feedback and incentives

As a manager, the following quote gave me something I can use for my team when giving feedback:

“Don’t be overly effusive with the prevention-focused or overly critical with the promotion-focused.”

This made me laugh. I really do not enjoy overly critical people, especially when their criticism is directed at me. I am thankful for this senior manager. I think he will bring some necessary positivity to our team. After all, perception is everything, but it is difficult to perceive over 60% of a department leaving as anything other than a sign that things need to improve in our department, especially in the way the “upper management” manage people. I, in the middle of this hierarchy, have a great team. They are really intelligent and talented people. I would like to keep them and not have them leave, as so many others in my posiiton have, recently.

Going forward

This new senior manager, appears to be a promotion focused individual. I really appreciate the talk I had with him this week. He gave me a nugget of information and upon investigation and reflection, I now have new information to help me manage my team as well. In addition, I have a new found understanding of the root cause of the conflict I feel at work. Now it is up to me to adjust how I will manage that and try to bring out the best in myself, regardless of prevention focused individual I answer to and to keep bringing in out from my team – who already are amazing talented individuals.

That is enough time spent on work today, I suppose that is another irony. I wrote about work on a weekend. I have a bit of clarity but not all the answers, and that is fine. I will continue to focus on playing to win. That fits who I am and feels right to me.

Today I think I will go for a run even if it is raining here in Montreal. My friend and trainer told me it will help clear my mind. She is right about that. Not only that but she told me “Don’t let it get to you, you are a soldier.” Just that little note meant the world to me. Something else to keep in mind. We make far too much out of all this. Days like today remind me of St Stephen’s Green in Dublin. It is a beautiful park, right in the middle of Dublin, except when you enter it, you feel secluded in a peaceful green space, calm and serene. Now that is a nice place to visualize.