16 January 2012

Are you a glass half empty or a glass half full person? Are you the victim of pressure or do you thrive under stress?

I find it fascinating that people can view the same thing from completely different perspectives and say, with absolute certainty, that they see total opposites.

You can look at a picture and see the most magical inspiration before your eyes, and yet someone else might not give it a second glance.

The same applies to everything we do and experience in our lives. What might inspire one person, just doesn’t make sense to another.

So, what drives this difference in opinions and views?

I heard a great analogy that the brain, like a computer, is a processor. However, unlike a computer, it can only focus on one thing at a time. If you try it, you really can only give one thing your full attention. And whilst you can perform functions that you have rehearsed over and over again, like walking, cooking, and exercising, when you turn your attention to something important, you will struggle if you add something else to the mix.

Tony Robbins talks of only being able to feel one emotion at the same time and I totally agree with this concept too.

Understanding this philosophy, or restriction, that we all have has actually helped me enormously. Previously, when I have tried to tackle everything that needs sorting in my life, I inevitably became overwhelmed and very little got done. In fact, sometimes the list is so large that it is easier not to tackle anything and to find something easier to fill your time with.

We have a rule at UKFast which is that we never show all of our plans to people. When we only had 4 people in the business (sorry Rich and Neil), Gail and I would write enormous lists of everything that we needed and wanted to achieve. And whilst we got incredibly excited by this, our 2 new team members actually became demotivated by the sheer volume of what lay ahead of them.

Can you imagine walking or running across America? Or climbing Everest? Or rowing across the Atlantic in a tiny boat (which my good friend Dan Innes did)? The thought is almost too daunting but if you cut it up into smaller journeys, States, weeks, days, hours, and then break each one of those into separate challenges, everything becomes a lot easier to tackle.

So, what did we do at UKFast? Well, we wrote some software and whilst Gail and I could offload thousands of jobs and ideas, we’d only let a maximum of the next 4 tasks be visible to anyone in the team. A remarkable thing happened; productivity sped up and the same 2 people became more engaged and not only tackled more but achieved the work of 5 people. Both Richard and Neil still work for UKFast. They have joined the 10 year club and both got a cheque for £10,000 for putting up with me for a decade!

More seriously though, I couldn’t do what I do without support from individuals like these guys. Yet, if we’d not learnt this really important lesson, the same two people might be very different.

So, in a world of a thousand decisions and with enormous pressures at every turn, how do some people manage to remain positive? How come some people just seem to be luckier than others?

In a meeting the other day, a friend pointed out a quote from Steve Redgrave’s book. Everything they did prior to winning the Gold medal was benchmarked against the question, “will it make the boat go faster?”

I could have done with this clarity as a very small business person running MDC as my first 10 years in business were incredibly stressful. They were great fun too, but it was like a game of snakes and ladders. I’d go from strength to strength then hit a major issue, usually in the form of cash flow.

I hadn’t had a day off or a holiday in nearly 10 years and my uncle Anthony (who was doing my accounts) told me I was busy going nowhere. He was right of course and although the advice hurt, I took the holidays I needed and suddenly I had new goals to focus my attention on. My boat started to go a little faster, I was just going in circles!

Going back to the brain being a single processor philosophy, I learnt early on in life that you can convince yourself of anything. Even when it is bitterly cold, if you say, out loud and with conviction, “I love this weather” then pretty soon you’ll be noticing the colours in the mist or rain and the biting wind just won’t feel so bad. I applied this philosophy to many things but it took a while for me to translate this skill into business and personal life. However, it can be done and actually is done by thousands of business people and atheletes across the globe. You are probably doing it already in areas of your life without realising it.

If you focus on all the problems you may encounter whilst trying to hit your sales target or grow your business, you can guarantee you are going to make it significantly harder on yourself than if you were to focus on the end result of picking up the trophy or celebrating the success that may lie ahead.

Now, some people may argue that you need to be realistic and you have to plan to avoid pitfalls. Personally, I believe that this is procrastination and if we all did this, we’d not evolve as humans; we’d simply sit at home stressing about the next episode of Coronation Street.

If you feel cold, focus on something else and the cold will go away. If you feel sad, find something you can be grateful for and do your best to focus on that instead. Whatever you focus on, you will feel.

Do you focus on the economy, and should you? Well, yes, if you are an economist or the Prime Minister. Otherwise, you should have enough on your plate. I remember one of the nuns at Brigedene Convent saying, “Lord grant me strength to change the things I can and the courage to accept the things I can’t and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Now, whether you are a religious person or not, this is great common sense. We are too wrapped up in the news because it is so accessible; it is in front of us in our homes, in our ears in the car, and it is the topic of conversation on everyone’s lips. It’s boring and really if we didn’t know any better you might be better off. Focus on what you can change and hope for the best that everyone else is as focussed as you on their roles.

I am not advocating ignoring warning signs and throwing caution to the wind with everything you do. I just mean don’t let it consume you like so many people seem to allow.

If you get the balance right, it should, in theory, give you more time to focus on the important things. Improving your own lives. Quality time with your friends and family. It’s funny how it always seems to boil down to this.

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