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Tyranny Prevention

May 24, 2017 1 comment
Keynote: Timothy Snyder

Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.
Keynote: Timothy Snyder. CC BY-SA 2.0

Yale University’s Levin Professor of History Timothy Snyder has written a manifesto for democracy titled On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017). This little volume (128 pages, 6” x 4.5”) packs a wallop. Although he never names anyone as his focal tyrant wannabe, the reader knows that this book is a call for individual action to prevent the inevitable consequence of inaction in the face of power grabbing.

As one action that I will take in response to his words, I have summarized his 20 admonitions for those of you who do not relish reading. That said, I strongly urge you 1) to read this little book, and 2) to find your own way of preventing tyranny. Together, we can.

The bolded introductory statements are Professor Snyder’s wording. The defining examples are my wording, including a couple of his examples.

  1. Do not obey in advance. “Anticipatory obedience” occurs when eager followers desirous of pleasing the leader initiate acts they imagine the leader would encourage, as in the SS killings in 1938 Germany before being commanded to do so.
  2. Defend institutions. Advocate for organizations that are important to you: EPA, NEA…
  3. Beware the one-party state. Fight for the integrity of the electoral process—stand up against efforts to gerrymander districts. Hurrah for yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling against two gerrymandered districts in my home state of North Carolina!
  4. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Czechs wanting nothing to do with Communism posted signs such as “Workers of the world, unite!” thinking authorities would leave them alone, assuming they were of a Communist leaning. Didn’t work. Remove or otherwise eliminate signs or symbols of hate or intolerance.
  5. Remember professional ethnics. Professional associations can make stronger statements than can individuals—while it may be difficult for one lawyer or one doctor to resist a malevolent force, they may appeal to their colleagues to provide ethical force in large numbers. In Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, one woman couldn’t stop war, but when all women threatened their men with abstinence, war was rethought!
  6. Be wary of paramilitaries. In a democracy, only the acknowledged governments (local, state, federal) have the right to police.
  7. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you must carry a firearm, maintain the personal authority to say “No!” to its use as a tool of unjust oppression.
  8. Stand out. Without Winston Churchill’s emergence, England may well have languished. He stood out, and up, to Hitler. Similarly, Gandhi, MLK Jr., and Sally Yates have stood out/up/alone.
  9. Be kind to our language. Tyrants repeat misused words until followers reify them. Resist by keeping your public language fresh and accurate. “The American people” is not the same thing as “my fan base.” Read great novels for ideas on how to speak truth to power.
  10. Believe in truth. No declamation without verification. Insist on knowing sources. Demand verifiable evidence. Check with the fact checkers. Protect the fact checkers. E. O. Wilson in Consilience posits that it is not politics and religion that divides us, but rather cultures that do not respect evidence.

    tyranny.jpg

    Mother with her Dead Son. Kathe Kollwitz. 1993. Berlin. (A memorial to the victims of tyranny.) CC BY 2.0.

  11. Investigate. Develop a nose for sniffing out fake news. Turn a deaf ear to blatant misstatements (“My program is the best possible that could ever be conceived.”) and correct them when and where possible. Before passing along a suspect, outlandish tidbit that stretches reason, check it out on snopes.com. Inform yourself—don’t shy away from reading a longer article when you suspect it has helpful information. Be one of the (hopefully increasing) well-informed electorate. Don’t just follow sources that confirm your biases. Conservatives must watch channels other than Fox News, and Liberals must watch other channels than MSNBC. I intentionally follow Al Jazeera on my iPhone. And the BBC. Look beyond your backyard/border.
  12. Make eye contact and small talk. It is easy to look friends in the eye and chat them up. It typically takes more effort to look strangers in the eye—particular those different from us—and make friendly small talk. Catching the eye of a potentially downtrodden person—or even someone who is visually different than you—and chatting briefly with them will make their day (better) and leave them less fearful.
  13. Practice corporeal politics. Get your bod and brain out into the world and make friends and connections beyond your private circle. On the other hand…
  14. Establish a private life. Protect your privacy and that of others by securing your computer and supporting organizations that advocate for human rights.
  15. Contribute to good causes. Support two or more organizations that advocate for a civil society—dollars add up, so don’t hold back because you could only make a small contribution! Think of autopay of a dollar a month to your good cause(s) as an inoculation against tyranny. When a million others join you, we have budgeted for tyranny prevention.
  16. Learn from peers in other countries. Keep your passport active, maintain relations around the world, and establish new ones. In the worst case, you may need a new home.
  17. Listen for dangerous words. Tyrants are extremists who are under the illusion that they are mainstream—that everyone values their agenda, and they use alarming words to cajole the masses into huddling into their fold: “so-and-so is a liar, so don’t listen to them—listen only to me,” “these are extreme times, so embrace my extreme methods,” “terrorists threaten our democracy, so bear with me as I suspend your liberty to stamp them out,” “emergency conditions require extraordinary responses powers,” “such-and-such is a total failure, so you must embrace my replacement for it,” “circumstances require that we make exceptions to the law,” or “Deutschland über alles.” Prefer “America and Germany and all their co-inhabitants of Mother Earth and the Cosmos.”
  18. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Founding father James Madison identified emergencies as the primary hotbed for tyrants—authoritarians emerge to manage terrorism and exact the price of personal freedoms in return. Their mantra: “I’ll keep you safe if you do all that I say.”
  19. Be a patriot. Pay your taxes. Support our military. Vote. Volunteer. Support our news organizations. Decry bad leaders at home and around the world. Support the values that our country espouses—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
  20. Be as courageous as you can. Be prepared to be demeaned, to be fired, to be imprisoned, or even to die, by insisting on the rule of law and the separation of powers.

Politics is a Team Sport

November 7, 2016 Leave a comment

All politicians have weaknesses, but having a strong team compensates for them.

German-born political scientist Hans Morgenthau (1904-1980), advisor to U. S. presidents and professor at the University of Chicago and City University of New York, is known for his theory of political realism. Something he wrote back in the 1970s offers insight into the 2016 U. S. presidential election.

Dr. Morgenthau observed that, throughout history, politicians’ weaknesses went mostly unknown until the mid-20th century. What changed this pattern was the birth and flourishing of modern journalism. With rapid travel, instant communication, and virtually omniscient research capability, journalists informed their public about every detail relating to political candidates of most interest. Unrelenting and effective investigations found all the warts, all the blemishes, all the skeletons.

team-members-aggregating-their-mental-models-jurgen-appelo

Team members aggregating their mental models. Jurgen Appelo. CC BY 2.0

 

In Morgenthau’s eye, this mushrooming of investigative journalism changed the basis for selecting politicians. Don’t select the best individual, he urged. Select the best team. If you focus on the individuals, you will see that both have blemishes. If you focus on the team that each would likely assemble after elected, the blemishes take a seat on the bench as the starters take the field.

Indeed. Whose team would you prefer to lead our country?

Abe Lincoln had blemishes, and he was aware of them. Professor Morgenthau quoted honest Abe as saying that

I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.

Managing Micromanagers

August 24, 2016 1 comment

“Get off my back—I can’t fly when you are weighing me down!”

Such is the lament of the underling suffering from micromanagement—the uninvited incursion by a manager into the how to’s and wherefores of a subordinate’s day. Just last week a client asked me, “How do I get her off my back? I’ve about had it.”

The problem with managing micromanagers is that their motives—the needs they are satisfying by micromanaging—vary among individuals. I call this a “multi-source behavior”—a phenomenon I did a series on recently (“Appearances Can Be Deceiving,” or, “What You See Isn’t Always What You Get”). Just as smiles don’t always convey liking, micromanaging doesn’t always convey judgment on the employee’s work. Hence, one needs to address micromanaging based on the trait, or combination of traits, that drive the manager to take over your wheel while driving.

You begin the process by understanding their trait profile. We use the WorkPlace Big Five Profile 4.0, which provides information on 23 subtraits of the Five-Factor Model. Here I highlight the traits that, in my experience, tend to lead a manager into pastures best left alone (names of the actual WorkPlace Big Five Profile 4.0 dimensions are italicized):

The Micromanager spaceship, Software Testing Club, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0,

The Micromanager Spaceship, Software Test Club, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

  • High anxiety (N1+, high worry). Some individuals live out their days in perpetual fear of less than desirable results. This was true before they were promoted into management, and it continues after their elevation. An effective way to manage one’s boss’s anxiety is through active listening—as in, “You feel doubtful that my approach will lead to the right results—is that right?” And keep listening, paraphrasing, asking narrative questions (Where, How, When, What, Who, Which…). Anxiety is often calmed by talking it out, as discovered through brain research.
  • Low trust (E5-, low trust of others). Some are born skeptical of others, and it isn’t going to change…much. The key to avoiding the crushing feeling of being mistrusted is to understand that it is not personally directed at you—micromanagers typically mistrust everyone! I know that doesn’t excuse it, and it doesn’t make it hurt any less when you hear their mistrust of you, but in your rational self you can tell yourself that you’re not being singled out for special treatment of the mistrust variety. Internally laugh it off and say (silently) to yourself, “Yeah, this is just Barb being Barb” (or Barb sending barbs!)
  • Detail orientation (O4-, low scope). Some can’t see the forest for the trees—they love to wallow in the details. And, if you don’t play that game, it can be infuriating. On the other hand, if you are a big picture person, you may find that a detail person can become a partner, whereby they help complete your where that you didn’t have the patience to dot every “I” and cross every “t” for. Often individuals are promoted into management because they were best at handling the details of their job, and now they are mishandling (or overhandling) the details.
  • Personal agenda (A1-, low others’ needs). Some are more concerned with getting their personal priorities met than addressing the priorities of their associates, subordinates, or customers. It is all about them. When this is the case, ask them what is so important about their involvement, so that you can help to shape your work in a way that helps to address their priorities. If their priorities conflict with yours, then discover their motives AND share your motives in order to negotiate an agreeable compromise.
  • Competitive aggression (A2-, low agreement). Some people just have to win, to have the last word, to perhaps even put others down. They can be real pills, a cod-liver-oil-type-of-foul-tasting-pills. Like mistrust, it is not personally directed—it is just who they are. Normally it is testerone-driven, so approach them at a time when they are lowest in testosterone (after they’ve been defeated at something. Men begin their day with high testosterone levels that gradually decrease throughout the day, with lowest levels in the evening. Work at home in the mornings and go to the office after lunch? Just kidding. Women are highest in testosterone around ovulation time, so wait a week or so after a particularly difficult incursion before approaching them again.
  • Pride (A3-, low humility). Goeth before the fall, right? Pride is associated with wanting to look good based on the sterling work of one’s team. Some micromanagers hover over subordinates because they want to shine after the work is done. Begin as assignment from them by asking what their standards are for success. Make it a joint effort for achieving star status, yet be prepared that they may take credit for your work.
  • Assertiveness (A4-, low reserve). Some managers just talk a lot. It is not that they are anxious, dubious, competitive, or any of the other traits we’ve mentioned, but that they just can’t keep their mouths shut. Talkativeness can come across as micromanaging. I once had a manager who went on and on. I tried establishing false time limits, as in “Yes, I can meet with you now, but I need to go take a call in ten minutes.” It worked.
  • Perfectionism (C1+, high perfectionism). This is probably the most common motive for micromanaging—the obsessive need for every output to be flawless. Buy the person a copy of Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice for their birthday. It is about maximizers and satisficers. Hopefully, your micromanager will learn to be less of a maximizer and more of a satisficer.

All of these traits have the potential to appear in micromanagers. At CentACS (Center for Applied Cognitive Studies), we especially track Low Trust of Others, Low Scope, and High Perfectionism in our Consultant’s Report.

 

Leaders Can Be Made, If Not Born

August 17, 2016 1 comment

One can be born to be a 7-foot NBA center, but one cannot be made into one. Or? Look at the Dutch, who have an unusually tall population and who also are known for their unusually heavy consumption of calcium (milk, cheese, and their kin). Clearly most human behavior has a largely genetic component, but there is always, well, almost always, room for the environment to play a small part.

Research reveals ideal Big Five trait levels for leadership. Across all leadership situations, followers need their leaders to be calm in a crisis (low Need for Stability), an active communicator (high Extraversion), strategically visionary (high Originality/Openness), sufficiently tough to say no when necessary (low to mid Accommodation/Agreeableness), and focused on the objective (high Consolidation/Consciousness). For short, I refer to this profile as N-E+O+A-/=C+. Tennyson’s “Ulysses” exemplifies these qualities. Here the poet summarizes the qualities of his leader:

One equal temper (N-) of heroic hearts (E+),
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will (C+)
To strive (A-), to seek (O+), to find (O+), and not to yield (A-).
Ulysses Nick Thompson CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.jpg

Ulysses, by Nick Thompson, from early Roman sarcophagus. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

But here’s the rub: Few of us are born with this temperament. Consider the odds: 1 in 3 are born N- (the bottom third of the normal distribution), 1/3 are born E+, 1/3 O+, 1/3 A-/+ (upper half of the low range of A plus the bottom half of the midrange of A), and 1/3 are born C+. The probability of being born with all five of these trait levels in one person is 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3, or one in 243. You would be correct to infer from this that, in a company of 200+ employees, there are many leader/managers who are misfits for their role. What are they to do?

I recently discussed this dilemma with an associate in Thailand. He was wondering whether our ideal leader formula might be too stringent a criterion for leader identification. He had received pushback from his clients, questioning the validity of the formula.

Here’s my explanation. Few people are ideally suited for their roles. Everyone must compensate, or adapt, in some way that is not totally natural for them. For example, in my role as research and development officer, I must be attentive to details. However, my temperament is not detail-oriented. I prefer the big ideas. But I must attend to details if I am to do my job, just as the introverted mad scientist must adapt and act extraverted at parties in order to schmooze with deep pockets and land funding for projects. We must all adapt in some way, except for the few, the 1 in 243, who are natural fits.

Leaders who are missing one or more of the ideal trait levels have three options. All are based on 1) self-awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses (gained through an assessment process), and 2) a willingness to find ways to compensate for one’s weaknesses.

  1. Choose the context. Not all leadership demands are equal. Some followers require more communication (E+) than others, as in sales teams needing more chat than a laboratory of research chemists. Put an E+ in a research lab and you have a bull in a china shop. The point: Find a context that needs what you offer, trait-wise. If you are prone to stress (N+), and you really want (or need) to lead, then find a context that is relatively stress-free (e.g., managing a gift shop rather than managing a hospital emergency room). The ideal leader trait levels are averages, and that means that in many situations more extreme levels—both higher and lower—can be effective.
  1. Embrace interdependence. Self-awareness is critical for this option. Interdependence means leaning on one another by acknowledging that others’ strengths can compensate for my weaknesses. My company is a team of ten. Not one of us exhibits all five of the ideal leader trait levels. However, on our leadership team of three, all five trait levels are present—distributed among the three of us. Jane has the N-, O+, and A-, Lisa has the O+,E+, A-, and C+, and I have the O+ (that’s about all, I fear—I’m not very leaderly!). In our meetings, I tend to brainstorm, while Lisa serves as evaluator. Lisa provides hard data for tough decisions, while Jane finds ways to circumvent constraints. Lisa and I both worry about doomsday, while Jane is as calm as a hibernating bear. We all value our differences and acknowledge that we each bring something necessary to the table, like proteins, fats, and carbs. You bring the tomatoes, you over there bring the mayo, and I’ll bring the white bread.
  1. Retain a coach. A coach in the leadership world is someone who can offer the leader suggestions on how to achieve one’s objectives. This could be anyone whom the leader trusts, from business or life partner to a professional psychologist or business coach. I was once engaged as a coach to the managing partner of an architecture firm of 80+ associates. The managing partner was concerned that associates complained about the quality of his meetings. The manager was quite introverted and hated meetings. I suggested he ask one of his more extraverted department heads to facilitate the meetings, and that the manager sit in the back of the room and serve as a resource throughout the meeting. Problem solved. In the case of Ulysses, his self-awareness made him aware that he lacked the steel nerves (N–) and rigid focus (C++) to resist the seductive sirens. Some coach—his #2 perhaps—may have suggested that he rope himself to the mast and plug his ears to bolster his resistance. Disaster averted. Whether a “coach” nudged him in the direction of acknowledging the weakness and using an adaptive strategy, or whether Ulysses figured it out on his own, this required self-awareness and interdependence.

Just because we are not a 1 in 243 natural leader, that does not mean we cannot lead. If we wish to lead, or find ourselves having to lead, we have these three options to be optimally responsive to our followers’ needs. People need a leader who is strong in will with an equal temper and strong in heart to strive, seek, and find, and not to yield. If all of these qualities are not in one person, adapt or look elsewhere.

How Do Religion and Politics Mix?

February 24, 2016 1 comment

An Imam, a Rabbi, and a Ronin were sitting on the bimah. Their host asked each to comment on this question: What is the line between religion and politics?

In a country that officially embraces the separation of church and state, the audience of mostly Jews and Christians at Temple Beth El in Charlotte, North Carolina, were eager to hear their views. This was the kickoff session of a six-part series on religion and politics. You judge whether the answers by the Muslim, Jew, and Buddhist had more, or less, in common.

KABUL, 24 June 2015 Ð AfghanÕs future leaders Ð the young men and women of one of KabulÕs college.

Afghan’s future leaders–the young men and women of one of Kabul’s colleges. June 24, 2015; UNAMA/Fardin Waezi.    CC BY-NC 2.0

The Imam strummed a welcome chord when he pronounced that he who says he should have power is not who should be in power. Only those whom others say should be in power should rule. In the current crush of egos courting voters in the 2016 U. S. presidential elections, the Imam’s words are discordant with the rush of “Me, me, me” on screen, stage, and town halls. The Imam would ask: But whom do the people say should serve? Elizabeth Warren? Michael Bloomberg? Nikki Haley? Jesse Jackson? Rupert Murdoch? Joe Biden? Jon Stewart? Mitt Romney? Alec Baldwin? The Imam seemed to suggest that we need a nomination process based on the masses’ identification of who should lead, and then ask the nominees to campaign appropriately. This reminds me of Shakespeare’s “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” (Twelfth Night, II,v) The Imam would seem to urge the latter—that the people should press their desired leaders into service—no more teaching, lawyering, or banking for you: time to lead your country. The role of religion in politics, then, would be to assist the people in identifying right leaders and encouraging them to serve.

The Rabbi took a different approach, addressing not so much who should serve, but how religion should behave towards those who do serve. “Speak truth to power,” she urged. That is the role of religion. Hold leaders accountable, and do not let them obfuscate fact with fiction. Where the people have great need, and their leaders discount those needs, religionists should hold the leaders to their tacit contract: Keep your eyes on what the people need and do not lose your focus. Do not let ego, fame, power, or the desire to be reelected distract you from compassion for the poor and ill-treated and the need of the electorate to be educated and safe.

The Ronin eschewed the issue of who should serve and how they might be identified, but he did expand on the Rabbi’s plea to speak truth to power. However, the Buddhist leader urged a different style for speaking the truth: It was not so much about calling out a leader’s lies, deceptions, and mistakes, but rather holding a mirror to them so that leaders might discover, and own up to, their distractions from what is right. How? Said the Ronin: It is better that I ask more questions than that I give more answers. Thus, the task of religion is to have dialog, Socrates-like, with our political leaders, such that the people may see their leaders’ ability to withstand the scrutiny of thoughtful interaction, or even interrogation.

To me, the three religious leaders focused not on the dividing line between religion and politics, but on the responsibility of religionists towards politicians. Get the right people to serve, guide them through thoughtful questions, and call them to task when gentle dialog is not enough.

A Modest Proposal

December 23, 2015 1 comment

In 1729, Jonathan Swift brought attention to the plight of Ireland’s starving poor by ironically suggesting the children be fattened and served up to the rich.

My modest proposal today employs no irony. Rather, I address a serious issue by suggesting a small, effortless, non-resource-consuming, incremental change.

The serious issue: Carbon emissions. The suggestion: Cut your engines when idling unless at a stop light or in stop-and-go traffic.

It was Friday, December 2, 2011. Jane and I were standing alongside the bellman just outside the main entrance to Tokyo’s Shinjuku Hilton. We were waiting for our host and Japanese partner, Nori Furuya, to fetch us and be off for our day of meetings. An immense, airport-bound bus with rear-view windows the size of parking lots pulled up. Then something happened I had never before witnessed, nor ever expected: The driver cut Shinto gatehis engines. Silence. No fumes. We were struck by his apparent courtesy.

Later, riding Tokyo’s maze to Nori’s office, I shared this epiphany with our host and asked if it were commonplace. He said, “Oh, yes. It is core to the Shinto world view. We hold great respect for the earth. To leave one’s fossil-fueled engine idling unnecessarily and spewing fumes onto Mother Earth is like relieving your bladder on your mother’s living room carpet. It is disrespectful.”

Ever since that time, I have cut my engines when stopped and not in traffic. When I swing around to the portico of our office building at 5 o’clock this afternoon to pick up Jane, if she is not standing there, I will come to a stop and cut my engine. Last week, waiting for her to return from Providence, R.I., and parked in the cell phone lot at Charlotte’s airport, I read from my iPad with the engine off. I uncomfortably noticed that over half the other cars in the cell phone lot were parked and idling, unnecessarily contaminating Mother Earth. I felt an urge to circulate and knock on windows, suggesting they show respect and cut their engines. It was a mild evening—no need for air conditioning of any kind. This morning, wondering what I would blog about this week, I parked in the rear of our office building and made my way to work. I passed a car that was idling, its driver primping in the mirror in preparation for her encounter with society, her tailpipe pumping trash while she applied her mask. Again, I wanted to knock on her window and request she attend to her tailpipe emissions. And, again, I resisted being the Mother Earth emissionspolice.

But, I had my blog topic! Please join me in this sign of respect and cut your engines when not in traffic and stopped. Give Mother Earth this gift for the holidays, and for her lifetime, which is in danger of foreshortening lest we do our part.

For my Big Five friends:

  • If you’re feeling more N+, do it because your conscience tells you to.
  • If you’re feeling more N-, do it because logic entails it.
  • If you’re feeling more E+, do it because you want to set a good example.
  • If you’re feeling more E-, do it because you love the quiet and pure air.
  • If you’re feeling more O+, do it because you are intrigued by the idea and the broad global impact.
  • If you’re feeling more O-, do it because you want to preserve what has been entrusted to you.
  • If you’re feeling more A+, do it because I told you to.
  • If you’re feeling more A-, do it because you want to be better at reducing your carbon footprint than the rest of us.
  • If you’re feeling more C+, do it because it will move us towards a more perfect universe.
  • If you’re feeling more C-, do it spontaneously.

But howsoever you are feeling, do it. Cut your engine. And have a rejuvenative holiday!

Perform, or Else!

November 25, 2015 2 comments

That is intended to sound like a threat! I have just finished reading an important book by Santa Monica psychologist Hendrie Weisinger and performance expert J. P. Pawliw-Fry titled Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most (Crown Business, 2015).

Critical to understanding their work is distinguishing between stress and pressure. Put simply, pressure is a form of stress “in which the consequences or results matter.” Making a foul shot early in the first half when you’re in the lead is not pressure, while making a foul shot with no time left on the clock and you’re one point behind—that is pressure. Pressure is what you feel when you are doing something, or about to be doing something, that could have disastrous (or at least game-changing) results if you do not do your normal good job—i.e., if you choke.

Persons who are more calm under pressure do not perform better than their usual—they just don’t perform particularly worse than usual. Those who are not calm under pressure tend to perform worse than their usual—they choke. So, the goal is not to perform better under pressure than your usual, but to perform as well as your usual.

The primary cause of sub-par performance under pressure is distractions, whether it be anxiety over the outcome or attack planes at 3 o’clock—imagined or present distractions. The solution is to find a way to resist such distractions and to focus on the immediate goal. Some people will find this easier to master than others—the world of personality assessment has shown us that persons low on Big Five N (typically calm), low on Big Five O (typically focused on the here-and-now), and high on Big Five C (typically methodical and disciplined) will find it more natural to remain calm under pressure, as well as to use the techniques recommended in this book to resist distractions. However, the techniques listed below can also work for those high in N (tending to be anxious and pessimistic), high in O (tending to be curious, imaginative, and more easily distracted), and low in C (tending to be more spontaneous and less disciplined).

Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry suggest these 22 proven ways to stay focused and resist distractions under pressure (the wording is mostly theirs):

  • Think of pressure moments as an opportunity for you to strut your stuff and maybe even have some fun—a challenge rather than a calamity.
  • See this as one of many opportunities, not the last.
  • Shrink the importance of the pressure moment—the more importance you place on it, the more you are likely to underperform.
  • Focus on your immediate mission, as in doing a good interview, squeeze ballrather than ultimate or related goals, such as getting the job.
  • Squeeze a ball—or some other form of isometric exercise—to dissipate the tension.
  • Expect the unexpected—anticipate what might surprise you and prepare how to handle it.
  • Affirm your self-worth—focusing on your strengths helps performance.
  • Flash back to your previous successes.
  • Be positive before and during high-pressure moments—engage in positive self-talk. (Remember the Little Engine that Could—“I think I can, I think I can, I KNOW I can!”)
  • Be here and now—tune into your senses—breathe deeply and take in everything around you.
  • Focus on what you can control—write off what is out of your control and build on your reliable strengths.
  • Practice meditation, including relaxation, mental imagery, and mindfulness training.dog yoga
  • Listen to or sing a favorite song—that is why many high-performance athletes use headsets before an event to prevent more debilitating distractions—music distracts from distractions!
  • Use a holistic word or image “cue” to guide performance and anchor your attention—use a word such as “smooth” or an image such as “landing safely” to undergird your performance.
  • Practice experiencing pressure—like the kid on the playground pretending to be Michael Jordan with ten seconds on the clock and down two points.
  • Write out your concerns about the high-pressure situation you are facing—putting it in words helps to free your working memory and prevent choking.
  • Put away self-consciousness by practicing self-consciously—viewing yourself on video, for example, tends to reduce distracting self-consciousness when later under pressure.
  • Create and practice a pre-routine, as opposed to a ritual—crossing yourself before a foul shot or other key event is a ritual, while foul shotengaging in deep breathing, bouncing the ball three times, and shrugging is a pre-routine. Effective pre-routines include mental activities, imagery, relaxation, positive self-talk, and some kind of arousal-inducing action (such as jumping jacks) aimed at increasing blood flow and pumping oxygen to the brain for optimal alertness.
  • Slow down your responses—give yourself time to think it over before you say or do it—look before you leap. A friend once lamented that he knew his history material cold but couldn’t get more than a B on his monthly essay tests—he couldn’t get it all on paper in the time allowed. I suggested he take three minutes before each essay and compose a mind map, then write—he wouldn’t have to worry about what to write next. He began writing twice as much on his essay tests and got his A.
  • Regulate your breathing—to help get calm, do deep breathing—breathe in through your nose on a slow six count filling both lower and upper chambers, then hold for a four count, then exhale on a slow six count. Repeat several times after four second intervals.
  • Go first when you have the choice—you tend to perform better when you haven’t seen what you’re up against.
  • Communicate your feelings to others of being under pressure—putting negative concerns into words activates the part of the brain that hosts positive emotions.

Pick one or more that suit your style and put reminders around you to keep them on your radar. If you want more explanation for any of them, give the book a read! It abounds with examples in diverse performance areas, as well as the research that backs up the 22 recommendations.