Curiosity Killed the Cat (we're lucky we're not cats) - and Four Other Reminders for 2019

You’re not alone if you are thinking “I can’t believe we’re actually heading into 2019!” Where is the time going, and why is it going there so fast? I love the New Year for many reasons – not the least of which, it gives us an opportunity to think about what worked and what didn’t. It’s a reset, a refresh, another chance, a formal opportunity to try something new. 

Here are some things I keep learning…

1) If you want to change behavior, first identify what you truly believe.

New Years is a time for resolutions. It’s a time when, as I said before, people crave a fresh start – a refresh. However, when I opened the gym almost five years ago I realized how many people don’t hold true to those resolutions for more than a couple of weeks. Why? Because they don’t bother to change their beliefs. Let’s face it, when you are behaving in a certain way, that behavior is somehow serving you. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be doing it. The hard work is in identifying how the behavior is serving you, and deciding to believe something different. My gym example is an easy one – we always get new clients at the gym in the early part of January – the gym is crowded and sometimes it’s even hard to get an appointment. By February, things have leveled off, and sadly, by March many of the new people have decided that they are “too busy” to come at all. Let’s look at the beliefs…maybe going to the gym is the resolution you make every year – looking forward to the fresh start. But the beliefs that you tell yourself “this is too hard,” “I’m so out of shape that it will take me forever to feel and look better,” “I just don’t have time,” are the very things that will drive your actual behavior. What if you changed those beliefs? What if instead of thinking that you don’t have time, that you start thinking that you can re-prioritize something else to make space for the 45 minutes you need at the gym a few times a week? I don’t mean start telling yourself that – I mean, start believing it. Show yourself you can do it. Eventually, your brain will believe you and alas, your behavior will change.

REMINDER #1: In 2019 identify a behavior that needs changing; first identify the beliefs around it. Then work to change the beliefs – the behavior will soon follow.

2) Curiosity may have killed the cat, but without it you might just kill your career. 

2018 brought with it lots of new things at work – new clients, new ideas, new challenges. New things can be scary – we become vulnerable when we are not sure of the outcome, we open ourselves up to failure and may instead take the easier route. Or, we become judgmental – listening to others in a defensive manner, rather than one that is open and curious. 

I’ve observed, from paying attention to my clients, that those who truly listen with curiosity hear more things, learn something new, and challenge the status quo more often. These are the people that will continue to grow, the ones that will stay current and therefore are most in demand. Those with a more ‘fixed’ mindset – someone that believes they have all the answers – well, without that curiosity, how much can they truly learn? And, who wants to be around people that aren’t learning and growing? I don’t want them in my company, do you?

REMINDER #2: Remain curious in 2019.

3) Leadership is easy until emotions get involved. That’s when it gets real.

I spend a lot of time with leaders. In fact, most of my working day is spent coaching, listening, teaching, holding up a mirror, and sometimes advising leaders. I work with my executive coaching clients on building a development plan to improve or breakthrough one aspect of their leadership. Some want to race through it, pound it out and get it done. But leadership doesn’t work like that. It’s hard. It takes time. Some want to list three things, finish those, and get on to the next three. It also doesn’t work like that. The real leadership breakthroughs are the ones you are working on every day – they don’t come easy or fast. They typically involve understanding yourself, your triggers and your blind spots, and then working to insert a thought between the feeling and the action.

I hear myself explaining to a group of new leaders a model to give feedback without the other person getting defensive. Then I try to give feedback to my 17-year- old son, and I don’t follow one bit of my own advice. Or maybe I can coach a leader to listen with curiosity to one of their direct reports who has a differing idea – yet, when my 15-year-old daughter explains one of her ‘differing’ ideas, I immediately judge and shut her down. Because with our kids, we are emotional. With those things for which we feel passion, our emotions work hard to get the better of us. Leadership is mostly emotional. If you’re not passionate, everyone notices. If you are passionate though you have to work extra hard to be emotionally intelligent. That’s why leaders get paid the big bucks. That’s what makes it hard. That’s why it’s not for the faint of heart.

REMINDER #3: In 2019 my kids deserve a good leader too. Insert a thought between a feeling and an action.

4) Focus on the breathing.

I practice this in yoga. I practice this when I mediate. Today my trainer told me (for the millionth time) to focus on my breathing when I was doing my 80th of 100 bicep curl and press. He said it again when I was doing sit-ups at the end of the workout, and when I was doing what felt like a million burpees. It was a great workout, as most of them are, but he reminded me that the fear and thoughts that get inside my own head are what are preventing me from moving forward on my fitness goals. The “worry” that I’m not going to finish the workout, or that someone will finish ahead of me, is the very thing that causes the brain to quit, to move back to something more comfortable, more pleasant. All that worry, that fear, makes the heart beat faster and work harder, which signals danger to the brain. SO… if you can focus on your breathing and manage your heartbeat, you can trick yourself (and your brain) into calming down and making better choices. 

This works well beyond fitness goals. This works for all the hard choices, the new directions, the crazy bosses, and next round of layoffs. This works for the new job, the new boss, the new circumstance. I think this might even work with teenagers. If I can just remember to do it.

REMINDER #4: I will breath 2019 in and out consciously and calmly, especially when it becomes overwhelming.

5) Work on getting a tiny bit better every day.

You’ve heard this one before…life is a marathon not a sprint. Incremental improvements over the long run amount to huge gains overall. But sometimes the big goal can be so overwhelming, it could prompt us to run, or quit, or never even try. What if we looked at life as a connected system, as opposed to a series of one-time events? What if we started to recognize the interconnectedness of our actions? 

I learned this while I was working at the United States Olympic Committee. Elite athletes look at their competitions as a series of interconnected milestones. Nutrition, strength and conditioning, cross training, their specific sport training… these incremental milestones are so important when an athlete is trying to improve by 1/10th of a second.

It works for the ‘executive athlete’ too. It’s freeing to understand that the big goal will still be there tomorrow, next week, or next year. Can you break it down into a series of smaller milestones that can lead you to success? Can you get incrementally better every day? This is where reflection comes in handy. Think about it, and write it down. What did you do today that was better than yesterday? Because, that’s growth and progress and that’s the way you knock down big goals and have great success.

REMINDER #5: What can you do today – every day in 2019, that is just a tiny bit better than yesterday?

I learn everyday from my colleagues, my clients, my mentors and my friends. I try to embrace these concepts in all aspects of my life. I teach about them, I coach to them and I believe in them. But we all need help. And we all need reminders. 

May 2019 lead you to happiness and success in whatever journey you are on.