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Communication, Thought, and Time

Communication, Thought, and Time

Over at Slow Leadership, this week has been all about using your time. I don’t set out to give each week’s postings a single theme, but sometimes it happens that way.

It began with considering the relationship between time, action and thought in a posting I called Taking Your Time. Some people claim that jumping into actions and decisions without stopping to think is the right thing to do. They want you to put your trust in intuition: a vaguely-defined process below the level of consciousness that is somehow more accurate and powerful than thought or reasoning. I guess Freud started it, with his ideas of an unconscious mind, but even he never suggested such a process is better or more accurate than reasoning or logic. That’s believing in magic.

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Science has shown that human beings typically have a limited taste for the workings of chance and randomness. The human mind tries to reject the idea that things happen for no reason—by chance—and tries instead to discover, or invent, a cause to explain each observed effect. People point to cases when blind intuition (not the kind from informed experience based on long years of study and practice) seemed to work and ignore all the cases when it did not. Anecdotal evidence is always partial: it claims support for what is already believed, skips over any contrary evidence, and ignores the equally likely possibility that the times when intuition came up with the goods were due to nothing but chance.

If taking time to think is more likely to produce a sound basis for action than putting your faith in magical intuition, relying on evidence and proof is clearly a better basis for knowledge than emotions. That brought me back to one of my favorite thinkers, Bertrand Russell, and a post called Those Much-ignored Essentials: Time, Thought, and Proof. In today’s rushed, stressed, and pressured working environment, it’s easy to mistake emotional statements for rational arguments. The media, relying on sound-bites and 30-second news stories, rates anything that hits home hard and fast, however irrational, so we’re all coming to place far too much reliance on emotional “arguments” (which are no arguments at all, since emotional claims allow for no alternatives). It’s unfashionable, even heretical, to decline to accept “human interest” in place of hard news, or point out how much sentimentality there is in conventional beliefs about good and evil, but I do it just the same.

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Back to time and the necessity to slow down. I ended the week thinking about communication. If organizations stopped believing that improving communication skills is a panacea for every problem in the workplace, tens of thousands of consultants and trainers would be out of work overnight. In writing Taking Time Out to Listen, I didn’t quite go that far, but I did suggest that haste, pressure, superficiality, and anxiety—all aspects of today’s business environment that undermine the capacity to pay attention—might have more to do with problems of communication than any lack of skill.

The natural process of “tuning out” topics, values, and motivations you don’t care about is given a massive boost by pressure and lack of time, creating blind spots in your perception. As a result, much of what is being “broadcast” by others is filtered out before it even reaches your consciousness. We’re back to intuition and instant responses. If a topic doesn’t grab your distracted attention right away, it’s thrown in the mental wastebasket unread and unheard. And that’s a great way to miss things that later turn out to be important.

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The antidote is cultivating a greater willingness to open your mind and senses to unfamiliar topics, including those currently assumed to have little or no value. That takes time and attention. And so we return to the need for time: time to listen carefully, develop an open-minded and broad-based view of the world, and come to decisions through thought and reflection, not magical beliefs in the power of intuition.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his posts most days 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.

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Last Updated on September 15, 2020

7 Helpful Reminders When You Want to Make Big Life Changes

7 Helpful Reminders When You Want to Make Big Life Changes

Overcoming fear and making life changes is hard. It’s even harder when it’s a big change—breaking up with someone you love, leaving your old job, starting your own business, or hundreds of other difficult choices.

Even if it’s obvious that making a big change will be beneficial, it can be tough. Our mind wants to stay where it’s comfortable, which means doing the same things we’ve always done[1].

We worry: how do we know if we’re making the right decision? We wish we knew more. How do we make a decision without all of the necessary information?

We feel stuck. How do we get past fear and move forward with that thing we want to do?

Well, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here are 7 things to remember when you want to move forward and make positive life changes.

1. You’ll Never Have All the Information

We often avoid making important decisions because we want more information before we make a tough call.

Yes, it’s certainly true that you need to do your research, but if you’re waiting for the crystal clear answer to come to you, then you’re going to be waiting a long time. As humans, we are curious creatures, and our need for information can be paralyzing.

Life is a series of guesses, mistakes, and revisions. Make the best decision you can at the time and continue to move forward. This also means learning to listen to and trust your intuition. Here’s how.

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2. Have the Courage to Trust Yourself

We make all sorts of excuses for not making important life changes, but the limiting belief that often underlies many of them is that we don’t trust ourselves to do the right thing.

We think that if we get into a new situation, we won’t know what to do or how to react. We’re worried that the uncharted territory of the future will be too much for us to handle.

Give yourself more credit than that.

You’ve dealt with unexpected changes before, right? And when your car got a flat tire on the way to work, how did that end up? Or when you were unexpectedly dumped?

In the end, you were fine.

Humans are amazingly adaptable, and your whole life has been helping you develop skills to face unexpected challenges.

Have enough courage to trust yourself. No matter what happens, you’ll figure out a way to make it work.

3. What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

Like jealousy, most of your fears are created in your own head.

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When you actually sit down and think about the worst case scenario, you’ll realize that there are actually very few risks that you can’t recover from.

Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Once you realize the worst isn’t that bad, you’ll be ready to crush it.

When you’re preparing to make a big life change, write down all of the things you’re afraid of. Are you afraid of failing? Of looking silly? Of losing money? Of being unhappy?

Then, address each fear by writing down ways you can overcome them. For example, if you’re afraid of losing money, can you take a few months to save up a safety net?

4. It’s Just as Much About the Process as It Is About the Result

We’re so wrapped up in results when we think about major life changes. We worry that if we start out towards a big goal, then we might not make it to the finish line.

However, you’re allowed to change your mind. And failing will only help you learn what not to do next time.

Furthermore, just because you don’t reach the final goal doesn’t mean you failed. You chose the goal in the first place, but you’re allowed to alter it if you find that the goal isn’t working out the way you hoped. Failure is not a destination, and neither is success.

Enjoy the process of moving forward[2].

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5. Continue to Pursue Opportunity

If you’re on the fence about a big decision, then you might be worried about getting locked into a position that you can’t escape from.

Think about it a different way. New choices rarely limit your options.

In fact, new pursuits often open up even more opportunities. One of the best things about going after important goals with passion is that they open up chances and options that you never could have expected in the beginning.

If you pursue the interesting opportunities that arise along the path to your goal, then you can be sure that you’ll always have choices.

6. Effort Matters, So Use It

It sounds simple, but one of the big reasons we don’t make life changes is because we don’t try. And we don’t try because then it’s easy to make excuses for why we don’t get what we want.

Flunked that test? Are you stupid? “Of course I’m not stupid. I just didn’t study. I would have gotten an A if I actually studied.”

Stuck in a job you hate? Why haven’t you found a new job yet? “Well, I haven’t really tried to get a new job. I could totally ace that interview if I wanted.”

Why do we make excuses like these to ourselves? It’s because if we try and fail, then we just failed. But if we don’t try, we can chalk it up to laziness.

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Get over it. Failure happens to everyone.

And the funny thing is, if you actually try—because it’s pretty clear that most people aren’t trying—then you’ll win a lot more than you think.

7. Start With Something Manageable

You can’t climb Everest if you don’t try hiking beforehand.

Maybe applying for your dream job seems intimidating right now. What can you start with today?

Can you talk to someone who already has that position and see what they think makes them successful? Can you improve your skills so you meet one of the qualifications? Can you take a free online course to expand your resume?

Maybe you’re not quite ready for a long-term relationship, but you know you want to start dating. Could you try asking out a mutual friend? Can you go out more with friends to practice your communication skills and meet new people?

You don’t need to be a world changer today; you just need to make small life changes in your own world.

More Tips to Help You Make Life Changes

Featured photo credit: Victor Rodriguez via unsplash.com

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