I recently attended a presentation of "High Performance: How To Get It. How To Keep It" by Greg Bustin at a Vistage meeting in Orange County. Greg packed a lot of material into his three-plus hour presentation geared around formal planning. The idea I really sparked to, however, was the notion of consequences. In designing accountability systems, one of the commitments Greg has people do is agree to accept the consequences of their actions or inactions. I’ve been reflecting since on the implications of that simple statement. The dictionary offers two distinct definitions of the word "consequences" ; 1) something that logically or naturally follows from an action or conditions. 2) significance; importance. Of most interest to me is that the dictionary does not associate any good or bad to consequences and yet in everyday language I suspect the word has a lot of baggage, (negatives), associated with the word. I suspect many readers will even find the idea of "punishment" associated with the word consequences.
As I considered this idea of consequences, of accepting them, and of letting go of the "good/bad" judgments, I decided to play out this concept in my real life to see how it might apply.
The inquiry came to together for me around email. I get more email than I can handle and still have a life and my health. I have struggled with that for too long now. I see virtually all of our clients and Vistage members struggling with it. Why? I didn’t ask most of the writers to send me the email. What makes me think I absolutely must answer it?
I realized that in my own internal dialogue there are messages that say something like “a good person would answer all of his email every day.” “People won’t like me if I don’t answer their emails.” “I won’t be respected if I don’t answer…” “I’ll be kicked out of the club if I don’t answer…” “There is one of those emails in that e-stack that has a zinger in it. If I don’t handle it, I’ll be screwed!” Etc., etc., etc. It's really an "inner critic" internal dialogue that is stirred up by the fear of negative consequences. This "critic attack" is part of the instant, automatic, and unexamined beliefs I have tied to performing and being liked or appreciated that are running the show.
I have not approached the outcomes of unanswered emails as simply outcomes - meaning consequences without baggage. I have been reacting to a negative significance or importance that I am essentially "making up" about not answering email or being very slow to answer. As a result of this exercise, I have decided I will give email my best shot within a larger set of priorities - attending to my work, my relationships, and my health and well-being. For all those emails that are answered very late or never, I am completely willing to accept the consequences. I will apologize or clean it up as necessary but I won’t sweat it. Having made the "unconscious conscious," (a Pat Murray notion –renowned Vistage speaker from the San Francisco Bay area), I can consciously choose to limit my time and energy devoted to email and simply be willing to have the consequences, free of any meaning I have been putting on it all.
I have found this to be a very "freeing" exercise and it occurs to me there are probably alot of times we are "overwhelmed," and what is really going on underneath is some type of fear related to negative consequences.
So how about you? Can you see any similar issues in your life that are driving a sense of overwhelm?