3 Tips for Increasing the Awesome at Work

Awesome Stuff Inside!

Last week I wrote about increasing the awesome vs. decreasing the suck and how I think that the only way to decrease what sucks is by focusing on what's awesome. Since then I've been thinking a lot about how to increase the awesome in my work life--what is it that we can do to bring the awesome? 

Here are three tips I came up with from noticing my own practice. . . 

1. Tune into the emotions of Awesome. 

The surest route to the Awesome, I'm finding, is to tune into my emotions. Whenever I feel curious, inspired, energized, hopeful, engaged, connected, and/or like I'm having fun, I know I'm accessing the Awesome. When I feel unmotivated, frustrated, irritated or apathetic, I'm most definitely living in the Suck. 

Each day I'm trying to begin with attuning myself to the feelings I want to have during my work day, reminding myself about the feelings of the Awesome. I also set the intention of trying to notice my Awesome emotions throughout my day, acknowledging them to myself and others.

It's been especially interesting to acknowledge a shift in energy to other people. They immediately know what I'm talking about and become even more energized, tuning into their own emotions of the Awesome and wanting more of that. I'm trying to be more purposeful in in doing this, as I find that this acknowledgement increases my chances of having Awesome converations (see below). 

2. Ask Awesome Questions

In the past 6 months, I've become increasingly interested in the power of questions to move me and the people I work with toward the Awesome. I'm firmly convinced that the questions we ask are at least as important as the answers. And I've found that asking Awesome questions actually is part of what increases our connection to and feelings of the Awesome. 

Some of the questions that have been working for me:

  • Why do I care about this situation? This reconnects me to purpose which connects me to Awesome. 
  • What possibilities and learning do I see? Seeing challenges and problems leads me to the Suck. When I look at possibilities and learning, I find the Awesome.
  • What do I want more of? When I tune into the emotions of the Awesome, I also notice what I'm doing at the time. Who am I with? What is happening? If possible, I will try to tune into the moment when the energy shifts from the Suck to the Awesome. Then I try to figure out how I can get more of whatever it was that created the Awesome. How can I inject it going forward? 
  • If success was completely guaranteed, what bold steps would I take? This may be the surest route to the Awesome. Usually I find that what is keeping me in the Suck isn't that I don't know what to do. It's that I'm afraid to do it. Or at least to try. So asking this question leads me to take the bold steps. . . most of the time. 

I've also been trying to find the "big questions" underneath the smaller ones. What is the REAL quest that I am on? I look for the forest, not the trees and often this leads me back to the Awesome. 

3. Have Awesome Conversations

Although the Awesome can sometimes be a solitary pursuit, most of the time it is not. Even if I'm going to do the work alone, having the right conversations can help me better articulate my vision of the Awesome. They can also help me connect to people and resources that help make the Awesome happen. 

This year is my year of conversation and I'm finding that the more I seek out and lean into creating Awesome conversations, the better I feel and the better my work is. 

To me, the hallmark of an Awesome conversation is that it generates Awesome emotions. If I'm feeling the energy of inspiration, hope, and possibility, then I know I'm having a conversation that will lead to the Awesome. If I'm feeling like I want to stab my own eye out, I know I'm mired in a conversation that supports the Suck. 

Awesome conversations mean that I'm talking about what really matters. I'm engaging with the Awesome questions and I'm noticing and acknowledging the awesome emotions. Most importantly, I'm acting as a host, creating a space for the Awesomeness to occur, being open to what happens and giving up my pre-conceived ideas of how things should go. 

I have found that some people are more amenable to the Awesome conversation than others. While I believe that everyone wants to have Awesome conversations, I'm not as skillful as I'd like to be in drawing people into those if they aren't at least halfway there. That's actually one of the areas I want to work on--how to help people who are really stuck in the Suck to find and access the Awesome. 

 

So these are my 3 tips for increasing the Awesome. What are you doing to increase the Awesome at work? 


Are You "Stuck" or Just Resting?

Stuck in the Mud

Tomorrow, I'll be starting a 7-day course on getting unstuck for people who may be feeling like they're getting nowhere fast. (Note--there are still slots available if this is you, so you may want to sign up.)

As I'm pulling final pieces together for the class, I'm thinking about the "frames" we set up around being stuck--the stories we tell ourselves when we find ourselves in this situation.  Often it's the stories themselves that are keeping us stuck. 

Probably the biggest story we tell ourselves is that we are, in fact, stuck.  Just look at some of the synonyms for "stuck":

  • Trapped
  • Caught
  • Burdened
  • At a standstill
  • Without ideas
  • Up against the wall
  • At your wits end

The more I say "I'm stuck," the more real these feelings become for me. All I can think of is my "stuckness," which means all I can think of is how trapped, burdened and caught I am in my situation. And, of course, the more trapped I feel, the more I resist that feeling. But "stuckness" is like quicksand. The more we resist it, the more it pulls us downward. Not exactly a recipe for moving forward is it?

The other thing that happens when we think of ourselves as "stuck" is that we immediately start beating ourselves up for it. If you listen closely to your internal dialogue, you'll hear that little voice saying "Well you SHOULDN'T be stuck. What kind of person gets stuck? No one else is stuck--it's just you. There's clearly something wrong here and you SHOULD do something about it." We start judging and berating ourselves which, ironically, only makes us feel MORE stuck!

So what happens if we change the "frame"? If we stop seeing seeing ourselves as "stuck" and think of this pause as something else?

If we look at our lives as a journey, traveling on a path, then we know that in every journey there are times when you need to stop and rest. Sometimes we choose those moments, but sometimes those moments choose us. In any journey, there's the time you decide to stop for something to eat and there's the time that you get sick because you've been going too hard and have to stop for a few days. It's just how life works.

We also know that in any journey, if we look at a particular moment in time, then it feels like that moment goes on forever. But in reality it doesn't. Eventually we start moving again. We never stay in one place. You've been "stuck" before, but you didn't stay there forever. You always moved on. That's also how life works. 

So what happens if I stop telling myself that I'm "stuck" and start telling myself that I'm just resting right now? What if I just accept that for whatever reason, I'm not ready to move forward? There's nothing wrong with me, I'm not a "bad" person because I'm not ready to move. It just is what it is.  

If I think of myself as "resting," one thing I can see right away is that I can CHOOSE to rest.  I automatically feel better because I'm not trapped into this place where I'm at today. This isn't a burden. I'm not up against the wall. I'm choosing it. In this case, choice is a wonderful thing. It can instantly make us feel better. 

Thinking of myself as "resting," is also restorative and nurturing.  We need rest in our lives, so maybe this rest that I'm taking is necessary. Maybe the very thing I need right now is this rest. Maybe I can use it to take a closer look at my situation and see what it's trying to teach me--how can I learn from this place that I'm at right now? 

Finally, if we think of ourselves as "resting," then we can stop beating ourselves up so much for being where we're at. We can be kinder to ourselves and stop the negative self-talk that ends up making us feel more "stuck." We can just say to that berating inner voice, "I'm resting right now. I need this.  Leave me alone." 

I'm not saying that changing your story from "stuck" to "resting" is going to instantly change your life, but it does open up more opportunities for new ideas and action. It can give us the space we need to see another way. It can also show us the choices we have in this situation where we feel stuck, including the choice to look for new stories to tell about where we are. 

This is a strategy I've used several times in my life over the past year for both personal and professional situations. It has opened up some major doorways in my thinking and really transformed how I approach those moments in my life when previously I thought of myself as "stuck." 

So what happens if you stop thinking of yourself as "stuck" and start leaning into "resting"? How does it change the possibilities you see? And what other stories do you tell yourself when you're feeling "stuck?" How could those shift too? 


Are You the Cause or the Effect?

Cause and effect

Accountabilty is the willingness to acknowledge that we have participated in creating, through comission or ommision, the conditions that we wish to see changed. Without this capacity to see ourselves as cause, our efforts become either coercive or wishfully dependent on the transformation of others

Community will be created the moment we decide to act as creators of what it can become. This requires us to believe that this organization, neighborhood, community is mine or ours to create. This will occur when we are willing to ask the question "How have I contributed to the current reality?" Confusion, blame and waiting for someone else to change are a defense against ownership and personal power. 

                    --Peter Block, Civic Engagment and the Restoration of Community

One of the most challenging practices I've been engaging in this year is asking myself "How have I contributed to the current reality?" Another way to ask the question is:

What have I done to contribute to the very thing I complain about or want to change? 

I've found that repeatedly trying to answer this question is both empowering and ego-threatening. It's also well worth continuing to ask. 

It's empowering because it puts the power for changing the situation into my own hands, rather than having it rely on getting someone else to change. It gives me another avenue into figuring out how I can create a new situation or dynamic. 

At the same time, it is ego-threatening because it invites me to consider the ways in which I am all the things I complain about the most. How am I apathetic or not present or too focused on problems or constantly complaining about what's wrong? How often am I critical, refusing to challenge my own world view, listening poorly and pushing my own agenda?  

When it comes to career and work life, I've found that too easily, I can embrace the idea that bad situations are created by other people. I am the victim or else the savior, riding in to save the day. Either way, I am on one side of the situation and everyone else is on the other side. This "me vs. them" dynamic can be very damaging.

Forcing myself to see how I co-create the very things I want to change, though, has given me another way to be.  It is teaching me to be more understanding and compassionate of where other people may be coming from. Not that I'm always able to feel this understanding, but when I can, it has shifted my interactions. 

More importantly, it consistently reminds me that I must be clear about what I want more of and that I must embody those things in my interactions with people and situations where I want to see change.  I can't control what other people do, but I can bring more of what I want to create change. 

For example, a few weeks ago, I asked where the meaningful conversations are at work. Since I asked that question, I've been looking at the ways that I have created situations where meaningless conversations continue. How much work do I put into crafting questions that help people go deeper? How am I expanding my skills and tools so that I create the space and opportunity for those kinds of conversations? How does my own inertia, sense of helplessness, difficulties with conflict and discomfort with being in a place where there are no clear answers contribute to these situations? 

This question--how am I contributing to the situation I want to change?--has been one of my most powerful tools in shifting my understanding of how I fit into any situation. Not only can I see the negative ways in which I contribute, I also become accountable for finding the positive strategies I can use to shift the conversations. 

This question is critical to my reflective practice. Although challenging to ask and answer, it's been well worth the effort. 

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Career Clarity Camp starts January 9. Info on the Camp and the sign-up form are here


A 3-Step Process for Learning From the Depths

Deep Ocean Depths

I was contacted this morning about doing a presentation on an old post of mine, "On Becoming a More Reflective Individual Practitioner," so I re-read what I'd written back in 2008.

One paragraph I quoted in the post really stood out for me. It was written by Joy Amulya of the Center for Reflective Community Practice at MIT from her booklet entitled What Is Reflective Practice?

Certain kinds of experiences create particularly powerful opportunities for learning through reflection. Struggles provide a window into what is working and not working, and may often serve as effective tools for analyzing the true nature of a challenge we are facing. Some struggles embody a dilemma, which can provide a rich source of information about a clash between our values and our approach to getting something done. Reflecting on experiences of uncertainty helps shed light on areas where an approach to our work is not fully specified. 

The examples that Joy provides--learning from struggles, dilemma and uncertainties--are what I call "learning from the depths." This is learning that takes place when we are challenged to reach into our core and dig deeply into who we are and how we operate in the world. 

The problem with this kind of learning, though is that often we are so caught up in the negative feelings that can accompany those kinds of experiences that we lose track of ourselves and our potential to learn. Sometimes it's all we can do to just stay with the experience, let alone learn from it. But if we can discipline ourselves to choose reflection, the learning can be a powerful thing. 

A 3- Step Process for Learning from the Depths

What has been successful for me is to use the process I'm going to outline below. The reflective structure gives me a way to wrestle with my learning that feels positive and affirming. Time and again it's given me a way to transform what could have been a negative experience into something that propels my growth. 

1. Notice and Describe Your Experience

The first step in learning from the depths is to really notice and describe what you are experiencing. Ideally you are in a regular process of reflective practice so you have some way of recording things on a daily or at least weekly basis. Personally, I do Morning Pages every day.  

But even if you are not in a regular habit, you will at some point become aware of the fact that you are wrestling with something difficult. Possibly it's the challenge of a particular project and managing all of the moving pieces. Or it could be issues related to collaborating with colleagues or feeling a clash between your personal values and what you're doing at work. 

Regardless, to reflect on something, you must first notice it and then describe what you're experiencing in as much detail as possible. 

  • What is the situation?
  • Who's involved?
  • How long has it been going on?
  • What have you done? What have others done? How has this helped or hindered the situation? 
  • What feels challenging or problematic about it?
  • What are your emotional responses--do you feel frustrated, angry, sad, overwhelmed? 

I've found that it helps to be as concrete and detailed as possible. Not only does this give me more to work with, it also helps get rid of the toxic or difficult emotions I'm usually carrying around. Basically this step allows me to vent, so I can then move on to the next stage of processing and reflection. 

I'll be honest. There are times that I need to give myself some time to get through this first stage of just describing and staying with the experience, especially if strong emotions are involved. I have to get past the "vent" stage before I'm effective with Step 2. 

2. Get Clarity About Your Ideal Outcome(s) 

The next phase for me is to take a step back from the current situation and get clarity about the outcome I'm seeking. What is it that I want to occur? What is the goal I'm working toward? This helps me further refine my understanding of the situation or dilemma I'm in. It re-focuses me on what I'm hoping to achieve, rather than miring me in the struggle itself. 

Some questions I might ask myself include:

  • What do I really want in this situation? Why? What outcomes am I looking for? 
  • What would the ideal situation look like? At the conclusion of this situation, what would be the best thing I would hope happens? 
  • What am I focusing on here? Can I shift my focus to more of what I want? What would happen if I did? What does this tell me about the outcome I'm seeking? 
  • How will this situation impact me 6 months from now? A year from now? 5 years from now? Asking this question helps me better clarify for myself what is often a time-limited thing. That can help me learn to let go of things that might feel like a struggle, but really aren't in the whole scheme of things.  

Getting greater clarity about outcomes and the end result I want can either help me let go of something that isn't a big deal after all or it can help me move to the next stage. 

Also, if I'm unable to get real clarity here, I will often go back to Step 1 to do some more venting and exploration of the situation, especially if I've been remiss in keeping up with my reflective work. It tends to be less of a problem if I've been journaling daily because I'm more likely to have released my feelings and have greater clarity about what's going on. 

3. Reflect and Enact

Although technically you could divide this into two steps, I've found that for me, these are really intertwined. 

Once I've found clarity about the situation and the outcomes I'm seeking, I then really look at what it tells me about myself and how I might want to experiment with different behaviors or strategies for dealing with the situation. Some of the questions I ask myself at this stage include:

  • What can I learn from how I'm handling and responding to this situation? What does it tell me about myself?
  • What can I learn about how I'm REACTING to the situation, particularly my emotional reactions? Is this a situation that is possibly challenging some important beliefs or assumptions? What are those beliefs and assumptions?  Do I need to revise them?  
  • What patterns do I see? Is this something I've faced before? How did I handle it and how can I use that in this situation? What does this tell me about how I "typically" respond in these situations? Is there something I need to do to address this because it's more habitual than I realized
  • What do I see as one of the most significant changes I could make to change this situation and get me closer to my outcomes? What one change would have the greatest impact in helping me to achieve the outcome I'm looking for? What small change could I make right now that would align with this larger change I want to make? 

With these questions, I am able to dive more deeply into learning about myself, my core strengths, my weaknesses, the places where I need to pay better attention to what I'm doing and how I'm handling situations. When learning from the depths, I try to get a sense of the underlying issues, because often these are about my character traits or values clashing with the real world and something has to shift at a deeper level for me to effect change. 

The last question in the list is an "enacting" question that allows me to start thinking about ways I might shift the situation. I've found that making micro-movements in the direction of a change I'm seeking is far more effective than coming up with some 10 point plan. These smaller steps also give me a chance to "try on" new behaviors and to experiment with change in a way that feels more natural and is likely to last longer. 

 

This 3-step process is one I've used in both my personal and my professional life to find learning and growth even in the most challenging situations. It has provided me with much needed structure at times when I felt like I was floundering. It has also helped me find purpose in some toxic and painful situations. I return to it again and again and it always helps me pull treasure from the darkest experiences. 


Six Positive Professional Development Strategies for the Toxic Workplace

Hazmat Suits

I'm finding that the combination of "doing more with less," and the morale fall-out of the recession is increasingly adding to the psychological burden that many of us deal with at work. We've always had bad bosses, ill-tempered co-workers and heavy work loads, but there's a special something in the air that I think makes things even more difficult than they've been. 

Over the weekend, I ran across a nice article in Psychology Today on how to deal with the Toxic Workplace. It got me thinking about how a Positive Professional Development approach can help us deal with a bad work environment. So here are six strategies for dealing with toxic work. 

1. Keep the Focus on You

As the Psychology Today article points out, it helps to start by keeping the focus on you and your responses to various situations. You can't control what other people do or say, but you can control how you respond. Recognizing this can be empowering and broaden the range of options for dealing with the situation that open themselves up to you. 

I also find that when you keep the focus on you, it's easier to treat your current situation as a learning experience. You can ask yourself on a regular basis, "How can I get the most out of this situation so that I can continue to build myself for the next opportunity I decide to pursue?" 

2. Reframe Your Experience

One of the most helpful things I've found in dealing with toxic situations is finding a way to reframe my experience. For me, Positive Professional Development is about finding ways to learn from what's happening to us, asking positive questions that can lead us to a different way of processing our lives. So if you're in a toxic work environment or are encountering a particular challenge, asking the right kinds of questions can help you re-frame things. Some possible questions to ask include:

  • What is good about this situation? What can I appreciate and focus on?
  • What am I focusing on in this situation and how can I focus on getting MORE of what I want, rather than less?
  • What do I believe is realistically possible in this situation? How can I broaden my beliefs to expand the possiblities? 
  • What learning is available to me in this situation? How can I be open to that learning and focusing on what I can learn rather than on the negatives? 
  • What small thing can I do to make the situation just a little easier or better?

This isn't to suggest that you should tolerate a bad situation forever, but sometimes asking these kinds of positive questions can help you begin to shift into a more positive frame of mind and, therefore, into more possibilities for dealing with the situation. 

3. Schedule Daily Debriefings for Yourself

This is another suggestion from the Psychology Today article that I think is tremendously helpful in shifting your focus for better problem-solving. 

Toxic workplaces, like toxic families, can give you a skewed sense of reality. You can begin to believe all the negative feedback and stories you may be receiving about yourself and your work. One way to use your daily debriefing time is to do periodic "reality checks," checking in with yourself to remind yourself of your positive qualities and attributes. This may sound hokey, but it really is necessary to counter-balance the impact that negative feedback can have on your psyche. If possible, find a co-worker to do this with--maybe you can take turns reminding each other of what makes each of you awesome. 

You can also use your daily debriefings to focus on what you may have learned that day. Did you have an opportunity to try out some new communication skills on people? What happened? Did you learn some new skill or piece of information? If you use your daily debrief time to focus on the positives you may be getting from the situation, this can help you focus more on growth, rather than on feeling demoralized. 

4. Seek the Growth Mindset

I've written before about the importance of cultivating the growth mindset over the fixed mindset. Sometimes our "toxic workplace" is something that we are creating ourselves--or at least contributing to by being in a "fixed" mindset where we are reluctant to grow and learn. Further, toxic workplaces often nurture and encourage the fixed mindset, making it even more likely that we're trapped in a cycle of stagnation. By nurturing in ourselves the growth approach, where we seek daily to be open to learning, we can sometimes address some of the worst characteristics of our toxic work. 

5. Focus on What You Want MORE Of in Your Work Life

Negativity can fuel more negativity. Often when we are thinking about a toxic work environment, we will focus on what we want less of--less complaining or less negative feedback, for example. This, in turn, has us focused on all the times that we are seeing complaining and negative feedback. But if we try to get clarity about what we want MORE of in our work--for example, more positive feedback--then we can go looking for that. And we may find that there's more of it than we realized. We can also focus on providing more positive feedback to others ourselves, which, in turn, can create a more positive workplace. 

6. Engage in Strategic Action

The first item on this list of strategies was to keep the focus on you. In this strategy, I'm going to bring it back around. You can't control what others say or do. You can only control your own responses and actions. Try strategically acting in ways that support more of the behaviors you'd like to see at work. If nothing else, see if you can focus on improving your life in some small ways. This article on 60 Small Ways to Improve Your Life in 100 Days might be helpful. You may also get some ideas from this article

 

Again, I want to reiterate that I am NOT advocating that we stay in toxic work situations and just try to put a happy face on them. But I am aware that, for a variety of reasons, we may find ourselves in negative work environments for much longer than we'd like to be, so finding ways to cope is critical. 

By focusing on using your negative situation as a positive opportunity for growth, you may be able to make more of your toxic workplace--or at least make it more bearable. 

Have you had to deal with a toxic work environment? What strategies did you use to get you through it? 


A 30-Day Experiment: Appreciating Team Members

As I look at my own professional development and my ability to implement the things I'm "learning" all the time, it occurs to me how often I learn about some new skill or idea and then end up doing nothing with it. This is a problem for the learners I work with, too. It's that pesky transfer of training that we all struggle with. 

With that in mind, I've begun thinking about ways to run 30-day experiments with myself, where I try on a new behavior to see how it fits into my life. What impact does it have on whatever goals I'm setting for myself around it?  How does this one change cause a shift in my thinking or work success? As Matt Cutts points out in the video above, we are more likely to find success when we look for ways to make small sustainable changes that we can maintain over a period of time. It's the difference between having healthy eating habits and being a yo-yo dieter. 

Since I'm deep into exploring appreciative inquiry and creating an environment of positive professional development, I've decided that I want to experiment with an idea I saw in the Harvard Business Review on The Happiness Dividend. The article maintains that happiness at work pays off in greater productivity, creativity and teamwork. One of the ideas it suggests to increase your sense of happiness is to write one quick email first thing in the morning praising a teammate or colleague. 

This appeals because I know that I can be very "task-oriented" and aware of the problems with people and situations. I'm trying to see how my approach to work changes when I take the more positive approach of identifying and appreciating the strengths in others in a very deliberate way. 

So for the next 30 days I'll be sending out an email each morning, thanking someone for something. Since I work for myself, I'm planning to broaden my idea of who to thank to my larger network of contacts. I want to see for myself what happens if I send out unsolicited appreciative notes. How does it impact my relationships wtih people, my thinking about work and the quality of my work? 

Stay tuned. . . . 


Professional Development from the Growth Mindset

Picture 3
A few years ago, I wrote a post about Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck's research into fixed vs. growth mindsets, in which I briefly explored the implications of her research. As part of my own personal professional development, I've been reading more books, so finally got around to reading Dweck's excellent Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and can see even greater implications for the positive professional development I've been thinking about of late. 

Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets

The premise behind Dweck's work is the idea that the view we adopt of ourselves can have profound impacts on our lives, relationships and careers. These views can be classifed as either "fixed" or "growth" mindsets. 

Fixed mindset people believe that our qualities are carved in stone. We have a particular level of intelligence, particular traits, particular behaviors that define who we are that can't really be changed. 

The growth mindset says that our qualities, traits and behaviors can be cultivated through our efforts. Although we can differ in terms of our aptitudes, interests or temperaments, we can change and grow in most areas through our efforts and experiences. 

Dan Pink describes 3 rules of mindsets (as laid out in a Dweck lecture) that nicely describe the differences between the two:

RULE #1

Fixed mindset: Look clever at all costs. (“The main thing I want when I do my school work is to show how good I am at it.”)

Growth mindset: Learn, learn, learn. (“It is much more important for me to learn things in my classes than it is to get the best grades.”)

RULE #2

Fixed mindset: It should come naturally. (“To tell you the truth, when I work hard at my school work it makes me fee like I’m not very smart.”)

Growth mindset: Work hard, effort is key. (“The harder you work at something, the better you’ll be at it.”)

RULE #3

Fixed mindset: Hide your mistakes and conceal your deficiencies. (After a disappointing exam score, “I’d spend less time on this subject from now on. I’d try not to take this subject ever again, and I would try to cheat on the next test.”)

Growth mindset: Capitalize on your mistakes and confront your deficiencies. (After a disappointing exam score, “I’d work harder in this class and spend more time studying for the tests.”)

Implications for Learning

The implications for learning of these two mindsets are fairly obvious---the fixed mindset is clearly antithetical to real learning. It is primarily about proving what you already know. What's a challenge, though, is ferreting out where you may be ruled by a fixed mindset when you think that you are actually operating from a growth mindset. Just because you think that in general you are a growth-oriented person, you may be surprised to see that there are places in your life and career where you clearly are operating from a fixed mindset. 

This may be a particular problem when it comes to learning from experiences, as opposed to participating in formal learning events. I know that for myself, I will generally be open to learning when I get the signal--"you are entering a learning situation," like a workshop, classroom, etc. I will also enter a growth mindset if I'm confronted with a situation where I clearly don't have a particular skill. (Right now I'm in growth mode over my participation in Google+)

But how open to learning am I if I'm in a work situation where I think I already know how to do the work, where I'm the "expert" and have done this many times before? Getting into growth mindset for reflective practice, where we are learning from our daily experiences, is much more of a challenge for many of us. Yet this is precisely where we may need that growth mindset the most. 

Getting into Growth Mode

Adopting a growth mindset is something that we can deliberately choose and its directly tied to the idea of positive professional development, which asks us to always be thinking, "What can I learn from this situation or experience?" 

Just noticing when you are moving into a fixed mindset can be a powerful way to switch back into growth mode. For example, I'm paying more attention to those situations where nothing seems to change--where I'm continually facing the same problems and challenges. These tend to be places where I've adopted a fixed mindset and basically given up on doing anything about them. But by asking myself, "What learning is available in this situation and how can I be open to it?" I've been able to begin devising new and better solutions. I've also felt less stressed about dealing with them. 

I'm also making greater attempts to seek and learn from criticism. This has been a challenge at times when the person delivering the criticism is less than constructive, but I'm trying to ask probing questions that help me to understand what the person is really trying to communicate that I may be able to learn from. 

I'm also trying to learn more deliberately from mistakes and failure. When things don't go as planned, I'm trying to approach the situation with a growth mindset, looking for the information in the experience that I can use to refine my approach for the next time. 

Consciously incorporating a growth mindset can create huge shifts in your awareness and work habits, I'm finding. It has me constantly looking for the learning opportunity and feeds my sense of purpose. Even the frustrations in my life can be opportunities for learning. 

How do the fixed and growth mindsets operate in your life? Can you see places where you have more of a fixed mindset and would like to move into growth? How do you keep that growth mindset going? 

Some Additional Resources

UPDATE--here's a link to some additional resources, including several videos. 

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I'm running two free Positive Professional Development Camps on July 26 and 28. Check out this post for more information and to sign up. There are only a few spots left, so I'd encourage you to sign up quickly! And if you can't attend, go ahead and fill out the form anyway, just to let me know you're interested so I can see about scheduling additional sessions. 



Positive Professional Development Online Day Camps

Girl Scout Day Camp

UPDATE! The Postivie Professional Development Online Day Camps are filled as of July 13, but I'm starting a waiting list in case anyone ends up dropping out. If you're still interested in attending, fill out this form and I will add you to the list. You can also complete the form if you are interested in attending, but can't make these particular dates/times. Depending on interest, I may look at scheduling additional sessions. 

 

Last week I was exploring how we can use positive questions to support professional development. I wrote a post here on how to prime the pump and another one on how to use positive questions to decide what you want to learn about. Then I looked at some strategies for exploring positive questions and how to translate insights into action

I've been wanting to experiment with doing online "day camps" where we use visuals, positive questions and a community of like-minded learners to engage in professional development and it occurred to me over the weekend that these questions offered a perfect opportunity to do that. 

So. . . here's what I'm planning. 

The Process

For both online day camps--described below--we will be using the Exploring New Options Image Center to consider some key questions. For each camp, we'll log-in to the Image Center and call in to a conference line (which I will also send out to you). We'll have the chance to create our images in response to the prompts and then talk about what we've created. I'll also send out some follow-up information and exercises you can use to dig more deeply into the topic. 

I'm not trying to make this super-complicated. I just want to experiment with using the Image Center and the positive questions to see where it takes us. I'm also really interested in the conversational aspect--what happens when we share our ideas and how can we move from vision to action? 

Positive PD Online Day Camp 1: Priming the Pump

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 from 7-8:30 p.m (EDT)

In this session, we're going to explore what we can create for ourselves in terms of a learning environment that best suits our needs. We'll use some of the questions from this post on Positive Questions for Professional Development: Setting the Stage--which ones will be a surprise!  We will then identify how to move from insights to action and what we can do to move forward. 

Postive PD Online Day Camp 2: Defining a Vision for Learning

Thursday, July 28, 2011 from 7-8:30 p.m (EDT)

In the second camp, we'll use the questions from this post on Developing a Vision for Learning--again, the specific questions will be a surprise. The goal will be to come up with an inspirational learning plan that supports where we want to go with our professional development. Again, we'll end by looking at how we can move from insights into action and what steps we need to take to implement our visions. 

UPDATE--Since I posted this, the class has filled up. I have created a waiting list, however, so if you want to join it, you can fill out this form. If someone drops out of the class, I will go to the waiting list and notify you. Also, if you are interested in the Day Camps but couldn't participate on these dates, then use the form to let me know you're interested in future sessions. 


Positive Professional Development: Insights Into Action

ready for action

This week I've been exploring using positive questioning strategies to drive professional development. Previous posts included: 

In today's post, I want to explore ways to translate insights into action. How do you move from creating a vision for inspired learning into enacting that vision? There are a few things we can do that I'll describe in greater detail below. 

Action, Not Activity

Before getting into specific strategies, I want to go back to my post last week on action vs. activity. As I discussed then, action is something that is inspired by a deeper strategic vision for what we want, while activity is action with no real connection to purpose or goals. 

As we look at ways to move from the insights we gained in exploring positive professional development questions, we want to make sure that the steps we take to enact this vision are tied strategically to what it is we're trying to create. We want to keep asking ourselves, how will this action take me closer to the learning vision I've created for myself? If it doesn't do that, then I should reconsider the activity because it won't be connected to real inspired learning. 

Changing Habits

 As we look at how to enact in our professional lives a more positive approach to professional development, I think it's useful to consider changing our habits, rather than trying to enact some full-scale "Learning Plan." Reality is, when we treat learning as an event, something we pay attention to only once in awhile, we are much less likely to achieve our professional goals. We need to see learning as a habit--like exercising or making good food choices--that can lead us to a healthier professional life. Lasting change often happens incrementally, not in one fell swoop.  So, how do we instill in ourselves the small habits of learning that will inspire us and keep us fresh? 

Moving from Insight to Action

This exercise is adapted from an activity in Appreciative Living, an excellent primer on how to use appreciative inquiry practices in your life. It focuses on enacting small, but significant changes in habits that bring you closer to your vision without you having to make major overhauls. It's like changing one eating habit at a time, rather than going on a full-scale diet. 

Start by going back to the insights you gained in responding to the questions about developing a positive learning environment for yourself and creating a vision for what you want to learn. Answer this question:

As I step back and reflect on what I really want and where I am today, what do I see as one of the most significant changes I could make that would help me to get to what I want? What ONE change would have the greatest impact in helping me achieve what I really desire here? 

Once you've achieved some clarity, then ask yourself:

What one small change could I make now, no matter how small, that would align with this high impact change? What could I do today that would get me a step closer to this larger vision I want to create? 

When you've identified this change, then take that step. See what happens. Modify what you're doing as appropriate. Use these questions to identify new steps you could take to keep moving forward. 

 

Run:Swiftly Tech SS & Run:Speed Shorts

Some Small Steps You Can Take

Here are a few "learning habits" you might want to try. Let me suggest that you only pick one or two at a time to see how you can incorporate them into your life, how well they work for you, etc. Once they become ingrained as habits, then look at adding something else when you're ready for a new challenge or to change things up a bit. 

  • The One Sentence Journal--This is a small, easy habit to incorporate into your daily life. Each day, at a regular time, write one sentence that is tied to your learning vision. It could be something you learned that day or a question that came up for you or something you want to try out. You'll find more in this post. You may want to consider signing up for Oh Life for this practice. It's an email-based journaling option that will remind you daily about posting with the added bonus of including a random entry you've posted previously.
  • 20 Questions to Ask Yourself Every Sunday--This is a great list of questions that you can adapt for enacting your professional development plan. Take 30 minutes at the beginning of the week to work your way through some or all of these and see what impact it has on your learning. 
  • 60 Small Ways to Improve Your Life in the Next 100 Days--Scroll down this list to items 8-13 in the Learning/Personal Development section. There are some great ideas for small changes you can make. I particularly like the idea of setting your alarm 1 minute earlier each day, so that by the end of the 100 days, you're getting up an hour and 40 minutes earlier, thus giving yourself a nice chunk of "me" time for learning. 
  • Debrief Yourself--Take a look at some of these questions and see how you might use them to reflect on various professional and learning experiences on a regular basis. 
  • Incorporate Reflective Practice--On one level, learning is a continuous cycle of "act/reflect." Many of us have the "act" part down pretty well, but don't always take the time for reflection. This post includes a link to a great 4-pager on reflective practice. You may also want to check out this post on incorporating reflective practices into the organization. 
  • Connect with Like-Minded Peers--One of the best ways to learn is with the support of others. Although there can be obvious value in connecting to people within your industry or occupation, I actually think that some of the greatest growth comes simply from connecting to people who also want to become more adept at learning. You don't have to be around people who want to learn about the same things, necessarily. You just need to be connected to people who love to learn.  It's much more fun with a buddy. And you may find that people from different walks of life who share your love of learning can offer you new perspectives and ideas to learn from as well. 

Some Final Words

So what are some of the take-aways from this week that I hope you get?

  • Learning should come from inspiration, not desperation. Finding ways to inspire your learning, rather than to goad yourself into it will always be more effective. 
  • Positive questions can take us in new directions in our professional development. They can ignite our passions and interest and give great energy to our professional development process. 
  • Learning is a habit--we have to look for ways to build it into our lives so that we become the learners we want to be. Focusing on events and "big plans," can be a recipe for failure. Like losing weight, learning is really about finding the habits that work for us to inspire our learning and keep us learning for the long haul. 
  • Focus on creating a learning lifestyle. What we're really talking about here is creating for ourselves a learning lifestyle, incorporating into our lives healthy learning habits. We are trying to become learners, not simply participating in learning activities. It's the difference between being a healthy person and a yo-yo dieter. A healthy person has developed small healthy habits for living, making choices in food, exercise, etc. that support his/her vision of the self as a healthy person. A yo-yo dieter is someone who eats well and exercises only to gain the short term advantage of losing a few pounds. When that goal is reached, slowly the old habits creep back in and the dieter finds that more weight has been gained and the cycle starts all over again. We don't want to be "yo-yo learners." We want to be healthy learners.  

So what are your thoughts on this post and the rest of the week? Has this series provoked your thinking on professional development? Would love to hear more!


Strategies for Exploring Positive Questions for Professional Development

Journal Entry

I've been writing and thinking over the past few days about using positive questions for professional development. First I looked at some questions for creating an internal and external learning environment and then I looked at questions to use in exploring what you want to learn

Today I'm thinking more about different strategies you can use to explore these questions. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Frankly, I've found that at different times, different strategies may work better, depending on the person. I've also found that it can make sense to use multiple strategies to explore the same question. Sometimes I get more from that experience. 

Reflective Journal Writing

Readers of my blog know I'm a big fan of reflection and of journal writing. For me, it can be really helpful to use old-fashioned pen and paper to write down my thoughts, but some people may prefer to open up a Google doc to reflect on these questions. Another thought is to use the Oh Life tool, especially if you're interested in exploring several of these questions over time. And, of course, a blog can be another way to do this. 

Story-telling and Conversation

Another strategy I encourage is to find a trusted colleague or group of colleagues and to try responding to these questions out loud, by telling the story of your response to someone else. This can be incredibly powerful for a few reasons. First, many of us (especially the extroverts among us) do best if we process things by talking. Just the act of saying our stories out loud can get our thoughts flowing. But I think it's the act of telling the story to another person, who is paying focused attention to you, that can really get the thoughts flowing. They can also reflect back to you some of the themes and ideas they hear that maybe you miss as you're talking. If you can record this conversation as it's happening, even better. That way you can go back to it later on. 

Visual Tools

I've had great success using visual tools to explore positive questions. My favorite right now is the Exploring New Options Image Center. But you could also use a vision board technique, visual journaling, or even mindmapping. The idea is to free up your verbal left brain, which can take you down well-worn paths, into your right brain where more creative solutions may be available. If you're someone who usually writes, I actually encourage you to try a visual technique. It will open doors that you didn't realize were there. 

Combining Strategies

It can also be helpful to combine several strategies. A process that has worked well for me is to first use a visual tool to explore the question(s) and then to talk about the story I've developed visually to another person. The process of me talking and the person reflecting back to me some of that they've heard and the themes that have emerged, gives me new ideas. I often take notes during this conversation so that I have a record of it and, if possible, will record the actual conversation to listen to later. I will then journal in a written journal about the image I've created, my conversation and any new insights I've found. Sometimes I'll listen to a recording of my conversation if I have the time and I think I will get more info from the experience. 

I've worked with other people who may journal first, then talk about it and then return to their journals to record additional insigts. 

The idea here is to tap into multiple strategies that may help you dig deeper into what you want to learn and how you want to learn it. While one strategy may be all you feel you need, using multiple strategies can definitely help you dig more deeply. 

Thoughts? What other strategies could work? What works best for you?