A few years ago, I was working for someone who prided himself on how little sleep he got and how hard he worked. Even though he claimed he didn’t, it was pretty clear through his actions he expected his direct reports to keep these hours and always be on. It was not uncommon to get emails and texts after hours, sometimes even in the middle of the night with an expectation of a timely response. It also seemed like the things he wanted were not really that time sensitive, so I wondered if he was just trying to either control things or just overwhelm his boss with a whole lot of detail no one cared about.
This was happening at a point in my life when my family really needed me to be present. My oldest was a busy high school student, and my youngest was in middle school. I started to get some not so subtle feedback from my wife and kids that I was falling short from time to time because I too often chose to respond to these messages, and doing a lot of after-hours work.
I wondered how much it would really matter if I chose to stop responding to emails, texts and phone calls after hours. Would I be shamed or otherwise penalized? Would my lack of response impact my performance reviews, thus affecting my compensation? Remembering the feedback from my family, I decided the answer was to try something different. I ran an experiment.
The next day I asked my boss to provide a company iPhone. He agreed. Once I got this device, I decided to experiment with turning the company device off once I arrived home, and then leaving it off until I arrived at the office the next day. At first, it was difficult to not go back and check the company phone, as I had become so conditioned to do so. It did not take long to build the new habit as part of the routine of transitioning into family time from work.
Here’s what changed: I noticed feeling more connected to what was happening at home. I think this was due to not having my attention split between home and work. Also, my sleep improved almost immediately. I was able to leave the phones outside the bedroom (I still do this) and I could make the transition to sleep much easier.
These results were not unexpected. That’s what I was going for, after all. But what happened at work?
Absolutely nothing changed. The situation did not get worse.
I never got any feedback from my boss that I was not responsive or falling behind the curve. No funny looks, no blemishes on my performance review (luckily I did not need to wait long to find out) and no impact to our business. The experiment was a success! Even as my boss moved on a few years later, I have maintained that habit as I think it helps me have good separation of work and home. I often thought of ditching the second phone, but I don’t ever want to go back to that place. The inconvenience of having multiple devices to carry is worth it.
So, what was the lesson? I learned that my “inner critic” had developed an inaccurate view of the situation. It was an elaborate drama that did not have much basis in reality at all. The experiment allowed me to re-frame the problem into something much closer to the actual reality in which I was working.
Michaele and I like to refer to the “inner critic” as The Trickster. Most commonly it’s called the ego. The Trickster likes to deceive us into thinking about an alternative reality, layering thoughts upon thoughts in dramatic fashion to either seek pleasure or avoid pain.
Since that time, I have come approach situations differently with the Agile Best Self Framework. One of the key principles at work here is:
Agile Best Self Principle #6: The most effective way to be your best self is to be mindful and intentional.
Two important words are the focus — mindful and intentional. Mindfulness is knowing the The Trickster is in all of us, and knowing when he’s at work in my head, and creating space for making choices about response. Taking action with intention is the second important word here. I didn’t know if the experiment would work. Would anything happen? Being open to learning from the outcome of the experiment is important, which leads us to another Agile Best Self Principle:
Agile Best Self Principle #2: Welcome change with curiosity.
Do you have great stories of times when the The Trickster was working on you but you mindfully overcame by applying Agile Best Self Principles? What was the impact of reframing the situation with curiosity? Did it change the response you took to the situation?
Between the learning from this experiment, creating the Agile Best Self Principles and seeking to apply them every day, I can root out The Trickster in situations like this and come up with a response free of drama and a reflection of my best self.
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