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Handling the bad stuff

Handling the bad stuff

Many people are having a bad time in organizations today. It’s not simply those experiencing budget cuts and lay-offs. Many others are experiencing a deep sense of hurt and loss: loss of much of a life outside of work, loss of their hopes and expectations, loss of their trust in the future, loss of confidence in reaching their career goals. The cruelest hurt is the collective loss of belief that things will soon return to normal. In today’s cut-throat world of global competition and corporate greed, it’s hard to know what normal is.

So many losses at one time are hard to bear. When things go wrong like this, we usually get mad or we become depressed. And because we live in a “can do” society, far more people typically get mad. Anger also has a quality of energy that makes you feel that you’re doing something. Depression may follow, but at the beginning you feel buoyed up by that sense of righteous anger. Of course, to sustain your anger and resentment, you do need a target. You have to be mad at someone or something. So people look around for a suitable scapegoat to take the blame for their disappointment and unhappiness. Where do they find one? “Out there” in the world. The greedy bosses, conniving politicians, job-stealing foreigners, sly financiers, or simply those cursed computers and machines.

I’m not going to excuse those who deserve criticism. But what gets missed is how powerless you make yourself whenever you locate the causes of your hurt “out there.”

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If you excuse yourself from any part in what has caused your hurt and pain, you also cut yourself off from responding in ways likely to make your life better. It may feel as if you’re doing something, but mostly you’re inside your head, imagining what you would love to do to the guilty party—if only you had the chance. Can you change Wall Street’s obsession with short-term profits? Can you you give your Tin Man of a boss a heart? And if you act out your feelings and vent your anger on someone you can get to—maybe your colleagues, your friends, or your family—you will have alienated people who might otherwise have been willing to help. Nothing else will have changed. You still have the problem; only now you have people who feel mad at you as well.

The trouble with blaming “them”—whoever “they” are—is that they are also “out there” where you have no direct control and probably little influence. While you dissipate your energy in resentful complaints and self-righteous demands, “they” are untouched.

A friend of mine has a compelling way of putting this: “Whatever you resist tends to persist.” If you direct your anger at someone, they usually fight back, turning a one-time hurt into an on-going conflict. If you blame impersonal forces, they catch your attention again and again, until it’s easy to believe they’re behind every hurt you suffer. The more you fret and fume about “them,” the more power you give “them” over your life, adding to your helplessness.

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Whatever happens, you always have the power to choose your response. If you can’t change “them,” you can still change yourself.

When bad times come around, try modifying the responses and attitudes “in here”—in your mind and heart —not “out there.” What happens in our lives is a blend of external events and internal reactions, so changing how you react will always affect the outcome—maybe not completely or instantly, but quite certainly.

The next time something or someone seems to be hell bent on messing up your life, try stopping and asking yourself these questions before you launch into the usual indignant complaints:

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  • “What have I done (or not done) that has contributed to this problem?”
  • “What have I been avoiding that I know I should have faced up to long ago?”
  • “What am I postponing that I know I should have done by now?”
  • “What am I blaming on others that I know is down to me?”
  • “What am I going along with that I know I should refuse?”
  • “What am I agreeing to that I know to be false?”
  • “What am I accepting that I know is selling me short?”
  • “What can I do about the things I’ve just discovered?”

Ask the questions in a spirit of curiosity, with a genuine interest in the answers. Don’t add to your guilt or try to beat yourself up over what you find. Guilt is a worthless emotion and beating yourself up changes nothing. The purpose of this exercise is to help you break through the automatic habit of pushing blame “out there.”

Only when can you see clearly what in your actions or attitudes has contributed to the problem can you discover what you can do that will have some chance of producing change. We’ve all done our share of blameworthy things; we’ve all been the innocent victims of circumstance—then made things worse by our response. As long as you deny accountability for your part in how your life has turned out, you’re held fast in pain and loss. Let go of your baggage and move on.

One of the greatest threats we face today is the relentless increase in global whining. Instead, conserve your energy for the positive task of confronting setbacks and exploring fresh ways to move forward. Don’t let anger and scapegoating others make you helpless. Change what you can and work with what you cannot. If you are honest with yourself, you will be surprised just how much falls into the first category and how little into the second.

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Adrian Savage is a freelance writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. His new book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.

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    Last Updated on April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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