[Article originally published on Medium] The feelings we have about something motivate the involvement that leads to our ability to develop a feel for something. Feelings also contribute to complication and emotional intensity.
The wrinkles of life make us emotional. Nowhere is this most acute than when we are learning something new.
We don’t like to admit it, but we are all emotional beings. The goal is not to overcome emotions. The goal is to manage them and make them work for you. Steadiness occurs when we seek neutrality, avoiding high highs and low lows, no matter what happens, no matter how much external events may fluctuate.
Craftsmen and women at their practice understand what it means to manage feelings as they gain a feel for their work. When they are engaged in their work and in harmony with their medium, they enjoy what many refer to as a meditative state. Time slows down. Choices that were absent before suddenly appear.
It’s the kind of peace that comes with the absence of extreme emotions.
What follows are the 7 steps you can take to achieve this state, so you can focus on learning to learn well, rather than fighting the anxiety, frustration, or boredom that inevitably comes with the repetition when learning something new. The craftsman learns to evolve those emotions into an alert, practiced skill of anticipation as they
STEP 1: FIND CALM
“It is in your power to withdraw yourself whenever you desire. Perfect tranquility within consists in the good ordering of the mind, the realm of your own.” - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
A 1949 fire fundamentally changed the way we approach fighting fires. Everyone ran away from the fire except a more experienced foreman, Dodge, who instead ran into it.
That takes nerve.
Like Dodge, we must prepare ourselves for the realities
of our situation, steadying our nerves so we can apply our abilities creatively when unique problems present themselves.
STEP 2: MANAGE YOUR FEELINGS TO GET THE FEEL OF YOUR WORK
“Of all the important pieces of self-knowledge, understanding how you learn is the easiest to acquire.” ― Peter F. Drucker, Managing Oneself
Even though pilots fly for a living, they can be overcome by anxiety. The same is true for first responders, ER staff, race car drivers and astronauts. In fact, these professions are trained not to panic.
When we make mistakes or something doesn’t go according to plan, we often trade in our well thought out plans for a good old-fashioned meltdown.
When we actively manage our feelings, we acknowledge that they are present but can be challenged and channeled. Only then, can we get back to the business of developing a feel for our work.
STEP 3: GAIN PERSPECTIVE
“The faculty to think objectively is reason; the emotional attitude behind reason is that of humility. To be objective, to use one’s reason, is possible only if one has achieved an attitude of humility, if one has emerged from the dreams of omniscience and omnipotence which one has as a child. Love, being dependent on the relative absence of narcissism, requires the development of humility, objectivity and reason.
I must try to see the difference between my picture of a person and his behavior, as it is narcissistically distorted, and the person’s reality as it exists regardless of my interests, needs and fears.” ― Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving
Our first reactions are never our fault. They are simply, our reactions.
Sometimes in minutes, sometimes longer, changes in perception occur when the situation itself has not changed, but our understanding of the situation changes. The facts haven’t shifted, but our context has.
As our understanding changes it’s time to question our initial reactivity, our reptilian impulses. This takes strength and is a muscle that must be constantly developed.
STEP 4: SEE REALITY CLEARLY, BUT HOLD IT LOOSELY
“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.”― Lewis Carroll, Alice In Wonderland
Craftsmen and women work with “what is” before them and do not “spin the facts.” The clay might be too dry. The wood might be wet. What to do? How to remedy those situations?
To learn, we have to detach from reality a bit. We abstract problems to simplify them and in doing so, engage our imagination.
By imagining what might be against what is, we lose direct experience, or feel, of the particulars. Loss of this proximity to reality can engage our creativity for new solutions.
We can do this for anything that stands in our way, seeing
things as they truly, actually are, but with enough flexibility to engage alternative realities of what might be.
STEP 5: SEEK TENSION BETWEEN FAILURE & FAME
“Let difficulty transform you. And it will. In my experience, we just need help in learning how not to run away.” – Pema Chödrön
It’s important to note that we choose how we’ll look at things. That means that we have to limit and expand our perspective to whatever will help us remain neutral in feeling, in order to get the feel of our work.
Not to be confused with “faking it until we make it” which denies our feelings of anxiety around under-performance, it is a form of selective editing in order to properly orient ourselves to the task at hand.
STEP 6: SHOW UP
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” – Pablo Picasso
Day in and day out, find a way to love the grind. Embrace the continuousness of your work by noting that the many small, incremental improvements add up to substantial change over time. This leads to “good change.”
Showing up when it is difficult takes heart, a long-term view, and stamina. It takes hard work to make the vision you have in mind a reality.
STEP 7: SEEK & FIND PROBLEMS
“The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers. – Eric Fromm
Only when you show up for work you choose to labor over deeply can you begin to embrace the discipline of anticipating mistakes and stopping them before they happen.
Working with craft requires distinct attitudes and capabilities of solving the problem at hand, but also the intellectual vision and insight to find new problems. Seeing what is missing involves the application of ingenuity.
Stability has provided the conditions for us to think of organizations of all types as machines. That thinking enables us to move forward with the certainty of predictability, reliability efficiency, and productivity. We update, copy, scale, and own them. We think of organizations as having parts and concentrate efforts on making them operate ever more cheaply.
This model works, until it doesn’t. Natural resources are finite. People burn out. Markets get over-saturated.
Given the amount of change with which we are forced to reckon, the flaw in this approach is that our perception of problems remains predefined. But there is growing momentum in the belief that business is not an independent machine. It is a living, breathing network of people, interacting with supporting networks, and dealing with ongoing, adaptive crises. This requires us to move forward in the face of great uncertainty.
Business as usual, with its dependency on scarce resources, is a dead end. This means that business as unusual will not feel natural at first. We might even need new words to describe it. We will need to reinvent what it means to lead or to work in an organization.
We have to create for ourselves the firm foundation that enables us to question constraints we see today, engage with risk toward opportunities, and take the leap. Like a craftsman, we will need to create new tools to contend with problems as they present themselves.
We must learn to improvise, because there are no manuals or operational excellence department for the crises we encounter today.
Everyone suffers setbacks: an injury, untimely surgery, a death in the family, a promotion that didn’t come.
Everyone has dreams: that book you want to write, business you want to start, that job you want to go after.
Our most painful or long-lasting experiences, our unfinished projects are hypotheses. They answered the initial question of “what if” and can be used in your next experiment.
Flipping your perspective—seeing through negativity, pain, perceived failure—toward opportunity and learning enables more opportunities, solutions, and creative thinking.
Returning toward what you know, doubling down on old approaches—rarely provides you more options. Perhaps sometimes. But now? Not anymore.
Go, try something different. Try something special.
If you find yourself blaming your (mental) tools, do something about it. Learn about mental models, learn from how Craftsmen talk about how they learn and get better at what they do and more importantly, take ownership. Moving forward requires change but change by itself does not mean that you are moving forward. As Socrates said, “The un-examined life is not worth living.”
Christine Haskell, Ph.D. is a leadership consultant and adjunct faculty at Washington State University. She helps busy leaders take responsibility for their learning and development. She writes on the topic of “Craftsmanship and The Future of Work.” sharing lessons from master craftsmen and women on personal and professional mastery, is due out late 2019. Sign up for her (semi-regular) newsletter here.