Return to Newsletter Archives

The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: December 2000

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Irrationality
  3. Musings
  4. The reading list

We currently have 2,334 subscribers. (I'm told by Internet experts that newsletters are often forwarded to two or three friends, meaning readership may well be 4,000 to 7,000.)

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. My wife and I send our best to you for a wonderful Holiday Season. Allow yourself to make it the best one ever.

  1. Techniques for balance: Overcoming overwhelm

    We often become overwhelmed with the exigencies of our lives, relationships, and professions, to the extent that we cease doing anything at all animated and instead become petunias, barely able to turn toward the light. Some fertilizer:

    • Make some priorities. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Choose three things to resolve or get accomplished quickly. (It actually doesn't matter what they are, just get three things done.)

    • Focus on the soluble. You can't resolve a personal loss or change government policy. Don't let that inability stop you from confronting the things you can change.

    • Delegate. The odds are that you've taken on too much. Can subordinates at work handle some projects? Can your partner and/or kids help? What about your friends? There is no shame in asking for help. You probably got in this mess because several people asked for your help and you couldn't refuse.

    • Miss a deadline. That's right, it's not the end of the world. The key is to tell the other party that the deadline or commitment will be missed, so that there are no unpleasant surprises at the last minute. The sun still rises the next morning.

    • Listen with your heart, then act with your head. In other words, choose accountabilities that your gut tells you should be attended to, then figure out a way to achieve them practically and efficiently.

    • When you're 80% ready, move. Most people find themselves under a pile because they believe they have to be 100% prepared in order to move forward. In fact, we can never be 100% prepared and the additional work in trying to move from 80% to 100% is dysfunctional (most people don't appreciate any qualitative difference, despite our efforts).

    • Question WHY you've doing (or procrastinating about doing) every single item which is part of your overwhelm. We tend to do things out of habit, not logic, and you may well be able to chuck half of them as really unnecessary. I stopped reading a slew of magazines which showed up every week without bettering my life in any way. I haven't missed one of them.

    • Tend to daily needs immediately. Go through the mail. Do the shopping. Answer phone messages. It's are more efficient to do these things in "real time" than to allow them to pile up.

    • Keep a speed dial list of help, and use it. Call the plumber, then let the leak be his problem. Call the insurance agent, and tell her to attend to the incorrect cancellation notice. Call the restaurant and have dinner prepared and delivered. Call the kids and tell them to stop charging things to your account or you'll stop paying their rent (this actually works immediately).

    • Remember: Life is about success, not perfection.

  2. The Human Condition: Irrationality

    One of the most frustrating situations we encounter is when we try to deal rationally with someone who resists every cerebral and analytical approach we undertake. We soon become agitated (or worse) and demand how it is that the other party can't see our entirely sequential, perfectly aligned arguments.

    Unfortunately, this often happens with loved ones and partners.

    The reason for the disconnect is that you cannot deal logically with someone who is emotionally paralyzed in a given position. When someone complains, "Why can't they understand that they're wrong in not inviting our cousins to the wedding," it's not a matter of what they understand, it's a matter of what they FEEL. Logic makes people think, emotion makes them act. Debates are logical and civil. Arguments are loud and unruly.

    The key to dealing with someone who is blinded by emotion is in finding out what other emotions will tend to influence their judgment. That's have to tap into the very source of the fire in order to extinguish it. Confronting emotional certainty with logic may be frustrating, but confronting it with equivalent and antithetical emotional certainty can be downright dangerous. There's a reason why those in favor of and opposing abortion, or animal experimentation, or the vote count in Florida can't talk civilly. It's called moral certainty, and it's volatile stuff.

    Someone who is acting purely on the basis or emotion is not mentally disturbed, obstinate, or fractious, at least not in their intent. They are merely being driven by a fundamental emotional fuel which doesn't readily exhaust itself.

    Find out what the emotional need being served is, and find other ways (more productive for you and conducive to cooperation) which may induce change at the visceral level. If someone is adamant about not spending money on a particular item or opportunity, find out why, and don't make a huge pitch for the wisdom of the expenditure and their blindness in not seeing it. Find out why there is such resistance to spending the money. The probability is that there is a fear of not having sufficient funds for something else deemed much more basic or urgent (tuition, retirement, health care). Agree with the priority, then demonstrate how the more basic financial needs are absolutely safeguarded and have adequate reserves.

    Any attempt to settle this on the wisdom of the new investment fails. Only an attempt to satisfy the emotional need for safety will allow the investment to be considered.

    We all try to hard to be good sales people, selling our alternatives, instead of collaborators and partners, trying to understand the other person's real needs. Worse, we often become emotional when our choices are threatened or critiqued, at which point communications breaks down entirely.

    There may be no such thing as irrationality, short of actual clinical personality disorders. What we really have is cerebral and visceral decision criteria, and both are equally important. You can't override one with the other.

    If you don't believe that, try forgetting your partner's birthday and then convincing them that there were logical reasons for your inability to remember it.

  3. Musings

    I've always felt that life is far too short to take very seriously, so I've tried to enjoy myself as much as possible. (One of the first questions I ask executives whom I coach is, "Are you having any fun?") At the risk of sounding as arrogant as William F. Buckley (who once wrote a book about an average week in his life which he thought would provide comfort to the hoi polloi), here are some of the whimsical events of my life over the past months.

    I have to call someone periodically who doesn't want his employer to know about my help, which is a reasonable request. He asked that I use a different alias each time. So as not to get confused, I decided to use Civil War generals (I'm an amateur but quite serious historian). So I tell the switchboard that I'm George Meade, William Tecumseh Sherman, Phil Sheridan, James Longstreet, and, yes, Robert E. Lee. The receptionist has never once said anything other than, "Thank you, Mr. Lee, one moment, please."

    I was in the men's room at O'Hare Airport and a guy actually came in talking at the top of his lungs on a cell phone. He was trying to conclude some deal. He stood next to me. I flushed.

    A woman in Iowa came up to me during a break in a speech (at Lake Okiboji believe it or not) and told me that I was speaking faster than she could think. I asked her, "And whose problem is that?" She stared at me blankly trying to deal with the question.

    I walk into a hotel health club. I'm wearing a workout outfit. I stop at the desk and ask the manager for a towel. "Are you here to workout?" she asks. "No, I collect towels," I replied. She stares at me quizzically. I take a towel myself and walk in.

    A flightless duck walks over to my neighbor's pool a quarter mile away. My son and I go to retrieve it and we find it happily paddling around. "I'm so glad you got here," says my neighbor, "because I didn't know how long it could tread water." My son told her that we only had about 20 minutes left before it sank.

    A woman in the audience of a presentation I'm making keeps asking questions about the most minute details, arguing with examples, and questioning applicability of ideas. I finally said to her, "You're a lawyer, aren't you?" She looked as though she had been clubbed. "Yes, I'm, I'm sorry," she stuttered, and didn't interrupt again.

    As usual, I was the first one trying to board the plane with a line behind me, all first class, or platinum, or children of the airline president. The ticket agent couldn't get the automatic machine to accept my ticket, which kept popping back into her hand. As she squirmed and the line became agitated I announced, "Please be careful, this is actually a Florida voting machine!" Everyone relaxed, including the machine.

  4. The reading list

    This month: Great sports books (no, really)

    • "The Boys of Summer," by Roger Kahn. A triumphant return, via the old Brooklyn Dodgers, to the days when athletes needed a second job, ball players were really heroes, and the world was a saner place. This is great social history.
    • "Ball Four," by Jim Bouton, The first of the baseball iconoclasts tells about the real people behind the athletes on the pedestals. The book made him a pariah, but all great people are ahead of their times.
    • "One Knee Equals Two Feet," by John Madden. The greatest football commentator (and an outstanding former coach, as well) throws himself into the most mundane of arcania, and comes out hysterical.
    • "Cosell," by Howard Cosell. The autobiography of a seminal figure in sports broadcasting, who wore a toupee, capped his teeth, changed his name, yet told it "like it is." He was the first major figure to stand by Mohammed Ali during his difficult times.
    • "Friday Night Lights," by Buzz Bissenger. If you think they take football at the high school level seriously in Texas, you ain't seen nothing yet. This is an engrossing--and terrifying--commentary on American values.