- It's not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It's what we do consistently.
― Anthony Robbins
So I got a dog. It’s been two weeks, and I’m proud to report that we’re doing okay. I’m his first full-time human, he’s my first dog. Sure enough, the difference is that he’s a baby dog, and I’m a grown-ish woman. Or I’m supposed to be, at least.
For those of you who have raised small children (not my case, as of yet), don’t mock me when I tell you I'm exhausted. It’s not just me saying it. Yesterday, I grumpily made my way to an acupuncture session only to be received by my traditional Chinese practitioner with a direct:
“Why is your skin so dry? And why do you look so tired?”
Bedside manners, right?
The puppy is awesome and cute, and fun. There’s all the love and the puppy kisses (not on the face thank you very much). But have you noticed how difficult it can be to communicate with an animal?
As you may already know, I’m a cat person through and through. I would even bet that if the two kittens who joined my household were able to speak, they’d tell you exactly that. It’s almost like I speak cat. Basically, I’m an expert.
The puppy, however, may have a slightly lesser opinion of me. I’ve been less than what I’d hoped. I had higher expectations for the start of our relationship; expectations of myself.
THE TWO C’S
During the drive to the German-Austrian border with my great friend M, where I was to collect the puppy, the two of us had an interesting conversation about our own self-inquiry journeys.
I’ve been pondering about consistency, and M has been reflecting on coherence.
We covered family, relationships, health, work, etc, and it seems that the two Cs are remarkably important across the board, in all things of life.
Coming back to the dog, let it be said first that I did my homework to prepare for its arrival home. Of course, that’s me, I'm a big fact-finder, full of resources. For days, it felt like a deluge of postal deliveries were landing on my doorstep, pre and post-puppy arrival, as I tried to cover my bases with food, treats, toys, beds, puppy toiletries and potty training stuff. The goal being to make him (and me) feel good.
What I left relatively unexplored was what the puppy needed most from me, besides the products. Like being watchful and consistent - in my tone, language, and in my approach. Also, in the timing of his meals and walks. All puppies want is love and a coherent, clear and consistent message from their humans.
If I were to grade myself, I’d give myself a score of six out of 10 on my performance so far as a dog mum. I lost my cool a bunch of times when my beautiful blue silk rug from ABC Carpet was used as an extra large pooping pad.
It’s okay; I’m learning the ropes. I now know more than I did last week. Don’t expect any temper tantrums from me anymore (crossed fingers), even when the puppy (whose name is Nandi) has his throw-down moments, like when I’m too slow at preparing his food. Yikes. Or he barks into the night from the other room.
But poor Nandi, I’ve not given him much to work with. Because it was indeed all new, I forgot or changed things around him. I wasn’t straightforward. I’d be frustrated if I were him, and sure, I’d also pee on the carpet. Confusion is the close relative of inconsistency.
CONSISTENCY MATTERS TO US ALL
This same theme came up in sessions with a couple of my coaching clients earlier this summer. Inconsistent behaviour can be interpreted rapidly as a sign of unreliableness. This is a blind spot for many of us, particularly when we are overwhelmed with our workload. And if you are one of those people who care about doing your job well, you’re likely to have found yourself in that kind of tight spot before. And so did I.
Picture a time when you’ve been drowning under pressure. You work away, and it may feel like you are overdelivering, but with pressure, there are challenges in assigning priorities, and perhaps difficulty in making choices.
Failure in delivery of what others expect will lead to frustration, strained relationships (tantrums?) or worse.
At a time when my life was reduced to endless meetings, managing up, down and sideways, the only way I could do my work was into the night and early mornings. That rhythm wasn’t sustainable. More regularly than I’d want to admit back then, things slipped out of my control. And I was too tired to know better or even notice. There were days I was just too tired to even care. I wasn’t ‘quiet quitting’, but maybe it wasn’t far from it either. My mind felt swollen and confused, opaque. My thoughts, less than positive, and while I tried to hide that, I couldn't have been successful at it all the time.
During the periods during when I did manage to do it all, despite the exhaustion, I felt exhilarated. Things were smoother. Because in finding or sustaining that sense of consistent delivery and coherent, right actions, I kept things working the way they should: smoothly.
Later in my life, I was lucky to read the book “Thanks for the feedback” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. In it, I discovered that many of our deepest feelings are actually perceived by others. Shocker!
As I’d heard it described by the authors, despite cultivating a calm or caring exterior, my true feelings were leaking all over the place. And guess what, it works just the same for you, me and everyone else. These feelings we leak may not be read clearly by our friends or co-workers, but we can feel, we can sense when something is wrong.
Harvard professor Frances Frei in her TED Talk said that when something’s off, “we can literally sniff it out”.
So while I was flirting with burnout, embittered by the workload and whatever other emotions were permeating me, I was leaking my feelings all over the place unbeknownst to me.
This week, the puppy didn’t have to wait to hear me loudly voice my disapproval to sniff out my frustration either. He, too, could sniff it out.
The commonality in both cases was that great tiredness certainly made things worse. My mind just found it challenging to make the right choices, and my moods were fluctuating fast. I’m more self-aware now, and thankfully am catching myself, but sadly, often in reaction mode, rather than mindfully responding to the situation.
In its excellent blog, the Sleep Foundation shares this data:
"Insufficient sleep can directly affect how a person feels during their waking hours. Examples of these symptoms include:
Reduced attention span
Poor or risky decision-making
Lack of energy
Mood changes including feelings of stress, anxiety, or irritability."
This week, I tick all of the above. Yikes.
For my clients, as much as me now (or me then), the solution would have been first to get more rest. The basics would be covered if that had been possible.
Then addressing the workload and priorities with the help of a caring manager. Not all of us have that (a well-meaning superior, that is), and to navigate this kind of discussion, it can be good to lean on a coach, mentor or HR professional.
What I was missing both back then at work, and now when I welcomed that beautiful orange fluffy pup home, is a greater sense of awareness, and a clear intention. Without having that 20/20 vision about who we want to be and how we want to come across, how can we hope to succeed?
After loving her speech at TED x Zürich Women earlier this summer, I caught up with seasoned executive Reshma Ramachandran the other day. We had a short video exchange to get to know each other before I interviewed her for the podcast. Over the course of our conversation, the Indian-born engineer, who has a warm countenance, said something about her team always being considered to be the “best one” in the company. As she has subordinates in multiple countries across the world reporting into her, I was keen to hear more - leading remotely is a major hurdle for most managers.
She smiled and indulged me in answering this:
“I tell them: do whatever you need to do, why be scared? Go for it, whatever happens, I have your back.”
Reshma clearly means her team members well. She relentlessly sets her people up for success and gives them the essential assurance that they’ll be taken care of no matter what.
This kind of caring, intentional message, when delivered consistently, and coherently, will indeed, drive people to do and be their best. I randomly sat next to Reshma’s husband and son, and one row in front of her team. Their loud cheers and support throughout certainly seemed to make that same point.
(Coherence and consistency) + (awareness and intention) = flourishing and success
And… practice (or being an expert) also helps.
Perhaps we all need the same thing as the puppy. What do you think?
I’m going to stop being hard on myself, let go of my sky-high expectations and consider what I want for my relationship with Nandi the puppy, and how I, too, can set him up for success.
How about you? Is there a situation or a relationship in your life where you need to dig into your own intentions?
If so, here are a few questions for you to ponder or journal on:
How do I really want to come across?
Who do I want to be?
What would I need to do to set this project or relationship for success?
And how do I want to relate to my own shortcomings so I can also set myself up for success in this relationship?
With all that said, I’m going to have a power nap. Everything will be better after.
Until next week.