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Why Do We Always Find Ourselves Doom Looping a Mistake?

Why Do We Always Find Ourselves Doom Looping a Mistake?

Whether it’s the friend who keeps falling for the wrong person, the employer who can’t seem to make things better at work, or the individual who won’t stick to a healthy routine, we all know someone caught in a negative cycle. The concept of the vicious cycle is nothing new. In yogic philosophy, the repeating patterns that manifest in our lives are called samskaras.[1]

Samskaras can be positive or negative. They are reinforced by repetition until they become second nature. Some yogis use the imagery of a butter knife running along a pat of butter as a way to explain samskaras. The knife leaves tiny ridges on the butter, and as you continue to run the knife along the same pattern, the grooves become deeper. When we develop positive patterns, they become easier to maintain over time. When our samskaras are negative, we enter into what is referred to in systems thinking as “doom looping.” Doom looping is as ominous as it sounds–problems compound and initial solutions don’t seem to have a positive effect.

It really isn’t easy at all to get out of a doom loop.

It’s easy to get caught in a vicious cycle. Imagine, for instance, a person trying to lose weight. This person may vow to exercise daily and eat better food. The morning begins full of commitment to the goal of living a healthier lifestyle, but then the person encounters a big pile of doughnuts in the break room at the office. This individual, feeling the mid-afternoon energy-slump that is perpetuated by their unhealthy body and schedule, eats a doughnut or two. He or she gets through the work day on a sugar high, but after arriving home, there’s dinner to cook, the sugar buzz has worn off, and ultimately the person becomes too tired to exercise.

Despite all those good intentions, the individual reinforced a negative pattern that will be harder to break tomorrow. Tomorrow when they get up, they will feel the cumulative effects of poor habits plus their recent failure to stick to a goal. Thus, they have initiated the doom loop.

But breaking the vicious cycle is the only way to stop negativity from coming back.

Employee turnover, poor health, and unhappiness are a handful of the many symptoms of being caught in a doom loop. In some cases, struggle may feel so natural that it is the only condition that people know. The cycle of poverty is a classic example of this.[2] Even though people in this situation understand that there are better possibilities, they lack access to them because of a series of compounding factors. This sort of cycle must be broken at a systemic level, and is not likely to be resolved through the power of a single individual.

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In other cases, businesses or entities may become reactive to problems instead of performing a proper causal analysis. They respond to an immediate need without fully understanding the problem. A company may notice that employee turnover is high, which leads them to increase their benefits package. This may draw new workers, but they fail to address the root of their issue, which is the tyrannical manager that makes every day a challenge for employees.

A school with a poor performance record may develop a turnaround plan that involves firing most of the teachers. Such drastic measures fail to yield results that districts desire in most cases.[3] In this instance the environment has been further destabilized by the reactionary policy.

Whether you are personally affected by doom looping, or you are watching it play out for someone else, there are steps that can break the cycle. The results may not be instantaneous, but they will be sustainable.

Sometimes we are so close to the problem that it can be difficult to see where we’re going wrong. The actions that lead us to this place feel normal to us, after all. Negative cycles can rob us of our power. You may be able to recognize the problem on your own, but there’s no shame in reaching out for help if you feel that you can’t resolve the issue alone.

Here’s a powerful way to stop circling the drain.

One of the main reasons that people fall into doom cycles is that they don’t take time to perform a causal analysis on their situation. If you attempt to tackle a problem without fully addressing its roots, you are putting a bandage on a broken arm. Our fast-paced world values quick results. Self-reflection, the key to breaking the vicious cycle, has become secondary to ideas that provide instant gratification.

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To get to the root of the problem, you can use the “5 Whys” method.[4]

At its most basic level, this method involves naming the problem, and then asking yourself why the problem is occurring five times.

For example:

  1. Employee turnover is high. Why?
  2. Workers are unhappy. Why?
  3. Their work-life balance is poor. Why?
  4. Their manager expects them to take work home with them. Why?
  5. As a company, our goals for this quarter are too ambitious for our staff. Why?

As you can see, this reflective line of questioning can yield some insights into what has led to such a high turnover rate for the company.[5] After this causal analysis, leaders may decide that they need to re-evaluate their quarterly goals so that they do not put inordinate pressure on the manager. By rethinking their strategy, they may be able to keep the manager from asking employees to take work home with them, which may make them feel better about their jobs.

A second way to break out of the doom loop involves using the following line of inquiry:[6]

1. Name a symptom of the problem. What is something that seems to be getting worse for you as time goes on?

I struggle to pay my bills every month.

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2. Choose three immediate and independent causes. What are three things that lead to the symptom you described above.

My job doesn’t pay me very much. I buy things on impulse. I feel social pressure to keep up with everyone else.

3. State the consequences of the causes. How are your behaviors impacting your life?

I’m stressed all the time. My cupboards are always empty. People think I have more money than I do.

5. Demonstrate how the consequences perpetuate the causes. How do the consequences of your actions enable the symptom to continue?

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Since people think I have more money than I do, they expect me to lead a certain lifestyle that involves spending lots of money. This keeps me from saving and causes me to dip into my rent and grocery money.

Break your chains!

Samskaras are a natural part of our existence. When vicious cycles arise from negative patterns, it is up to us to break them. Causal analysis should always begin with self-study. Whether you choose to use one of the methods listed above, employ the assistance of a life-coach or therapist, keep a journal, or engage in mindfulness exercises, persistence will allow you to identify the core of the doom loop.

Don’t allow yourself to be a prisoner to unhealthy mindsets and habits. You are the driver of the change that you want to see in your life.

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

Reference

[1] Yoga Journal: Stuck in a Rut
[2] NPR: One family’s story shows how the cycle of poverty is hard to break
[3] Educational Leadership: Research Says… / Drastic School Turnaround Strategies Are Risky
[4] iSixSigma: 5 Whys
[5] iSixSigma: Determine the root cause: 5 Whys
[6] Systems Thinker: Identifying and Breaking Vicious Cycles

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Angelina Phebus

Writer, Yoga Instructor (RYT 200)

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Last Updated on October 21, 2019

How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination, is a reminder of why I am so drawn to leadership as a topic. Whenever I think it is impossible for me to be more impressed with her, she proves me wrong.

Earlier this week, a former marine suggested that he had been in a long-term sexual relationship with the Senator. She flipped the narrative and used the term “Cougar,” a term used to describe older women who date younger men, to reference her alma mater.

Rather than calling the young man a liar, or responding to the accusations in kind, she re-focused the conversation back to her message of college affordability and lifted up that “Cougar” was the mascot for her alma mater. She went on to note that tuition at her school was just $50 per semester when she was a student. Class act.

But by the end of the week, news broke that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, another contender for the presidency, had a heart attack. Warren not only wished Sanders a speedy recovery but her campaign sent a meal to his staff. She knew that the hopes of staff, donors and supporters were with the Senator from Vermont and showed genuine compassion and empathy.

To me, she has proven time and time again that she is more than a presidential candidate: she belongs in a leadership hall of fame.

What makes some people excel as leaders is fascinating. You can read about leadership, research it and talk about it, yet the interest in leadership alone will not make you a better leader.

You will have more information than the average person, but becoming a good leader is lifelong work. It requires experience – and lots of it. Most importantly, it requires observation and a commitment to action. Warren observed what was happening with Sen. Sanders, empathized with his team and then took action. Regardless of the outcome of this election, Sanders’ staff will likely never forget her gesture.

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You would have had to work on a political campaign in order to appreciate the stress and anxiety that comes with it. In this moment, staff may not remember everything that Warren said throughout the lengthy campaign, but they will remember what she did during an unforgettable time during the campaign.

If this model of leadership is appealing, and if you are searching for how to up your own leadership game, read on for six characteristics that good leaders share:

1. Good leaders are devoted to the success of the people around them.

Good leaders are not self-interested. Sure, they want to succeed, but they also want others to succeed.

Good leaders see investing in others just as important as they see investing in themselves. They understand that their success is closely tied to the people around them, and they work to ensure that their peers, employees, friends and family have paths for growth and development.

While the leaders may be the people in the spotlight, they are quick to point to the people around them who helped them (the leaders) enter that spotlight. Their willingness to lift others inspires their colleagues’ and friends’ devotion and loyalty.

2. Good leaders are not overly dependent on others’ approval.

It is important for managers to express their support for their teams; good leaders must be independent of the approval of others. I explained in an article for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, that:[1]

“While a desire to be loved is natural, managers who prioritize approval from subordinates will become ineffective supervisors who may do employees harm. For example, a manager driven by a need for approval may shy away from delivering constructive feedback that could help an employee improve. A manager fearful of upsetting someone may tolerate behavior that degrades the work environment and culture.”

In yet another example, a manager who is dependent on the approval of others may not make decisions that could be deemed unpopular in the short run but necessary in the long run.

Think of the coaches who integrated their sporting teams. Their decision to do so, may have seemed odd, and even wrong, in the moment, but time has proven that those leaders were on the right side of history.

3. Good leaders have the capacity to share the spotlight.

Attention is nice, but it is not the prime motivator for good leaders. Doing a good job is.

For this reason, good leaders are willing to share the spotlight. They aren’t threatened by a lack of attention, and they do not need credit for every accomplishment. They are too focused on their goal and too focused on the urgency of their work.

4. Good leaders are students.

In the same way that human beings are constantly evolving, so too are leaders. As long as you are living, you have the potential to learn. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you think you have; you can always learn something new.

I have the experience of thinking I was doing everything right as a manager, only to receive conflicting feedback from my team. Perhaps my approach was not working for my team, and I had to be willing to hear their feedback to improve.

Good leaders understand that their secret sauce is their willingness to keep receiving information and keep learning. They aren’t intimidated by what they do not know: As long as they maintain a willingness to keep growing, they believe they can overcome any obstacle they face.

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As both masters and students, good leaders read, listen and study to grow. They consume content for information, not just entertainment purposes. They aren’t impressed with their knowledge; they are impressed with the learning journey.

5. Good leaders view vulnerability as a superpower.

It means “replacing ‘professional distance and cool,’ with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure,” said Emma Sappala in a Dec. 11, 2014, article, “What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable” for Harvard Business Journal.[2] She went on to note the importance of human connection, which she asserts is often missing at work.

“As leaders and employees, we are often taught to keep a distance and project a certain image. An image of confidence, competence and authority. We may disclose our vulnerability to a spouse or close friend behind closed doors at night but we would never show it elsewhere during the day, let alone at work.”

This rings so true for me as a woman leader. I was raised believing that any show of emotion in the workplace could be used against me. I was raised believing that it was best for women leaders to be stoic and to “never let ‘em see you sweat.” This may have prevented me from connecting with employees and colleagues on a deeper, more personal level.

6. Good leaders understand themselves.

I am a huge fan of life coach and spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant. In addition to her hit show on the OWN network, Vanzant has authored dozens of books. In her books and teachings, she underscores the importance of knowing ourselves fully. She argues that we must know what makes us tick, what makes us happy and what makes us angry.

Self-awareness enables us to put ourselves in situations where we can thrive, and it also enables us to have compassion when we fall short of the goals and expectations we have for ourselves. Relatedly, understanding ourselves will allow us to know our strength. When we know our strengths, we will be able to put people around us who compliment our strengths and fill the gaps in our leadership.

Final Thoughts

Being a good leader, first and foremost, is an inside job. You must focus on growing as a person regardless of the leadership title that you hold. You cannot take others where you yourself have not been. So focusing on yourself, regardless of your time or where you are in your career will have long term benefits for you and the people around you.

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Further, if you want to become a good leader, you should start by setting the intention to do so. What you focus on grows. If you focus on becoming a better leader, you will research and invest in things that help you to fulfill this intention. You will also view the good and bad leadership experiences as steppingstones that hone your character and help you improve.

After you set the intention, get really clear on what a good leader looks like to you. Each of us has a different understanding of leadership. Is a good leader someone who takes risk? Is a good leader, in your estimation, someone who develops other leaders? Whatever it is, know what you’re shooting for. Once you define what it means to be a good leader, look for people who exemplify your vision. Watch and engage with them if you can.

Finally, understand that becoming a good leader doesn’t happen overnight. You must continually work at improving, investing in yourself and reflecting on what is going well and what you must improve. In this way, every experience is an opportunity to grow and a chance to ask: ‘What is this experience trying to teach me?’ or ‘what action is necessary based on this situation?’

If you are committed to questioning, evaluating and acting, you are that much closer to becoming a better leader.

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Featured photo credit: Sam Power via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Why Good Managers Overcome the Desire to Be Liked
[2] Harvard Business Journal: What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable

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