It’s an extrovert’s world

I’ve just finished reading a well-known and well-reviewed book on introversion. It’s funny how I can’t imagine saying directly to anyone that I’m an ‘introvert’ – the word just sounds negative and abnormal due to our culture – but I would imagine that someone could quite easily describe themselves as an ‘extrovert’ with a much more positive reception.

I’ve heard people argue that you can’t separate everyone into one of two categories, yet I think doing so helps us to understand and accept that there are people on both sides of the spectrum and both should be treated equally, without pressure for the quieter ones to conform with the louder majority. Something needs to change in western culture, and I hope that this book is the start of that.

quietWhy we don’t all need to be ‘all-rounders’

(Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, by Susan Cain)

Such a well-researched and well-organised book, and a very interesting read. Some great ideas on different kinds of leadership and work environments – the suggestion that extroverted leaders are better when staff are passive but introverted leaders are better when staff are proactive is a really interesting one, and I personally hate open plan offices as I need my own space.

Cain also covers the nature-nurture debate, explaining how some people are simply born more sensitive to what’s going on around them, and although they can learn to think and act differently as they grow older, those in-built sensitive reactions are still present.

The book also covers cultural differences in personality, specifically comparing America and Asia. While obviously you can’t stereotype whole nations, Americans do seem to prize charisma and speaking out while Asians tend to value quietness and thoughtfulness much more highly as an indication of wisdom.

We definitely need extroverts, introverts and all those in-between; we just need to make sure that all of them are heard and accepted for who they are without pressure to conform.

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Dream BIG

I was on a course last weekend and somewhere near the start we were standing in a circle completing the sentence “If I won the lottery I would…”. I froze. On the spot I didn’t have a clue. What was wrong with me? Where are my dreams?

There are lots of things I want to do in my life, but I wouldn’t want a lack of money to stop me from doing them. There’s very little that I would like to have/do/experience that’s so expensive it would require a lottery win.

I guess I’m reluctant to share my dreams in case they don’t happen; in case I’m not brave or determined enough to make them happen.

be-a-free-range-human7. Escaping the 9 to 5

(Be a Free Range Human: escape the 9 to 5, create a life you love and still pay the bills, by Marianne Cantwell)

This is such a positive book, full of ideas and inspiration written in a really friendly, chatty style. In essence the message is that you won’t be able to find your perfect job, but you could create it for yourself.

It’s about taking action, starting small but actually doing something rather than just sitting around thinking about it (the latter is something I’m very guilty of!). There are lots of case studies of ‘free-rangers’ (basically entrepreneurs who aren’t tied down by location or lack of funding), and the book is divided up really nicely into different sections, the first of which is about dreaming big.

Too often we over-analyse ideas before we even start, which ends up putting us off going anywhere with them. There’s the idea that you have to face reality and have a perfect business before you even start, and, at least as far as this book is concerned, you really don’t.

I guess it’s the same with choices. It’s about trying things out and testing the water before committing to something, rather than just analysing it until you end up either not making a decision at all or making one you later begin to question.

Go with the flow

One of our school mottoes was ‘Destiny is choice, not chance’, and this is something I feel like I’ve stuck to, a little too well. While I do try to take advantage of chance opportunities, I always feel the need to make actively thought-through decisions.

Basically I’m a bit of a control freak.

The following book was mentioned to me through a comment on a previous post, and it was definitely a good recommendation (thanks David Lindskoog). It’s not only helped me to clarify my thinking on taking advantage of chance events, but has also helped to convince me that I really don’t have to commit to long term career goals.

luckisnoaccident6. Coincidence or fate?

(Luck is no accident: Making the most of happenstance in your life and career, by John Krumboltz and Al Levin)

This book basically describes life, or how life should be: trying things out, meeting and speaking to different people, and discovering opportunities through networking. It’s easy to forget how small efforts, such as attending an event or chatting to a stranger, can lead to significant links, connections and opportunities, whether immediately or sometime in the future.

I love the idea of flexibility and ‘going with the flow’; the idea that it really truly is ok to make mistakes, that you can always change your circumstances and goals and that there is no right or wrong answer as long as you’re exploring and experimenting. I realise this probably all sounds like common sense, and it is, but it’s easy to forget. There are some great quotes and loads of great examples of different people’s career paths throughout the book.

One particular quote stood out to me: The question that I hate most that we ask of young people is, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” And the truth is, I still don’t know at age 45 – Michelle Obama. Maybe there’s a feeling that you’re a bit ditzy if you don’t have a career plan, that you don’t care enough about your future and making the most of your talents, but this book has taught me that’s there is no shame at all in exploring your options.

You never need to decide what you are going to be in the future (a great sense of relief to me!). Unplanned events will inevitably have an impact on your career. Reality may be offering you better options than you could have dreamed. Expect to make mistakes.

Reassuring? I think so.

How to control your emotions

I won’t be sharing my New Year’s resolutions, though I have tried to make them realistic enough that hopefully I’ll be able to achieve most of them by the end of the year. I’m already onto reading another book and have two more lined up, so back to the book reviews… (starting to veer towards personal development though still related to decision making)

chimpparadox5. Managing your inner Chimp

(The Chimp Paradox – The mind management programme for success, confidence and happiness, by Dr Steve Peters)

I bought this book based on great reviews on Amazon, and I haven’t been disappointed. A handful of reviewers criticised it for being too simplistic, patronising even, but I just found it refreshingly clear, simple and fun to read. One of my teachers at school used to remind us to KISS – keep it simple, stupid, and that’s exactly what this book does, to great effect.

Steve Peters is a psychiatrist who has worked with world-class athletes. He uses a lot of metaphors, dividing the brain into three parts: the Chimp, the Human and the Computer, and describing the ‘Psychological Universe’, made up of different planets and their moons. I personally find the imagery really helpful for remembering his concepts and advice. A lot of what he says could be said to be common sense, but he explains it in such a memorable and creative way that seems really useful for taking practical action.

Essentially the book is about controlling the Chimp (emotional) part of your brain. The book suggests simple techniques to do this, and also discusses ways to change your thoughts and beliefs as well as your behaviours.

Relating this back to decision-making, what stands out to me is the emphasis on making rational Human choices, rather than irrational and emotion driven Chimp choices. It’s important to acknowledge and accept your emotions and the important things they are telling you, but then to think and act rationally to achieve long term goals, rather than simply acting to remove short term stress.

The great balancing act

So I’ve now finished my fourth book – unfortunately I’m not going to be able to keep up with reading books at this rate but I’m going to try to keep blogging regularly anyway! The main thing I’ve learnt from this book is that I’m not alone. Indecision affects so many people, and this book focuses particularly on women, whose freedom of choice hasn’t always been so great.

4. Compromise – you can’t have it allundecided book

(Undecided: how to ditch the endless quest for perfect and find the career and life that’s right for you, by Barbara Kelley and Shannon Kelley)

I’m discovering a lot of contradictions in my search for solutions. Settle for good enough, be content with what you have, versus follow your passion, keep searching for what’s right for you. Plan ahead, think about how you can fit in family plans with career plans, versus live in the present, not in the future. I guess it’s just a case of balancing all of these things.

Feminism is a significant part of this book, with a lot of discussion about how women’s lives have changed, from times not so long ago when the majority of women were (and were expected to be) housewives and mothers, to the present day when women seem to be expected to do it all, from having an amazing career to keeping up their appearance, looking after the kids and running the home (obviously this is a stereotype and there are a lot of men who are just as involved or even more so in bringing up children, cooking, washing, cleaning etc.).

I hadn’t realised how much of an issue gender equality still is. These authors argue, and I tend to agree, that the working week is designed to fit the lifestyles of men who have wives to go home to who take care of everything for them and have their dinner on the table. However this is no longer the case for most people, and both men and women want to be able to spend more time with their families and pursuing other interests and hobbies. It’s this whole idea of work-life balance (or work-life fit, as this book argues there really isn’t any balance – everything is a compromise and you always have to prioritise some things over others).

Some things I’ve taken from this book:

a) Let go of some dreams and hold on to those that are most important – If you can accept that you won’t be able to do everything, and choose a few things to focus on (at least for now), then you can let go of feeling you need to do it all.

b) Any kind of meaning or purpose, whether in or outside of work, can lead to contentment.

c) Remember that happiness isn’t as good as contentment. Happiness is short-lived and wears off; contentment is constant.

I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it. It’s written in a style almost similar to a blog, rambling narrative with lots of different examples and quotes thrown in, but I think that helps to make it interesting and easy to read. Essentially it says that there aren’t any real solutions – the key message is that you can’t have it all but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Compromise and contentment are both really positive.

Logic versus intuition

I can be quite a logical person; I enjoy maths and science and solving problems. Yet when it comes to personal, rather than academic, matters and decisions, I have to feel that I’m making the right decision, so after much analysing and deliberating I will nearly always go with my instinct. Despite this I often regret choices I’ve made, even if they felt right at the time. Does this mean that in future I should analyse all the options and make the logical choice (maximise)? Or should I carry on following my gut and learn to be satisfied with my decision (satisfice)? After all, you can never know what would have happened had you followed a different path, and the grass is always greener.

The thing with following logic is that you then have solid reasons to convince both others and yourself that you made the right choice. Whereas going against something because it feels wrong could just be falling into one of the psychological traps I mentioned in my last post. It’s a tough one, especially for someone like me who has a tendency to go with feelings rather than thinking.

3. Following your gut

(Gut feelings: The intelligence of the unconscious, by Gerd Gigerenzer)

This was a really interesting read, especially if you’re interested in psychology. In essence it talks about how our instincts, rather than being based on whim, could be based on unconscious intelligence and following rules of thumb appropriate to particular situations.

There are numerous examples of when using a simplified decision making process can actually be just as effective as using a more complex process. The author also argues that sometimes one good reason is enough to base a decision on.

A useful method is listing your objectives (so important to clearly state these, as I learnt from the last book) in order of importance, and then selecting the first option that matches. Say, for simplicity, you want to buy a pet. Your objectives are, in order of importance, for it to be furry, low maintenance and cheap. If your options are either a cat or a snake (as that’s all the pet shop has) then only one of your options satisfies your most important outcome so you take the cat. However, if your options were cat, snake and dog, two of your options fulfil your most important objective so you look at the next on the list. A cat is more low maintenance than a dog, so again you make your choice, only analysing as far down your list as you need to, without trying to maximise and cover all of your objectives.

Another interesting point is how people tend to stick to the default option. A key example is organ donation. If organ donation is the default option in a country then very few people will opt out, however if opted out is the default, then far fewer people will opt in. I guess this shows that people don’t like to make decisions!

Step 3 for effective decision making: It doesn’t have to be complicated – you can focus on your objectives and compare alternatives without maximising. Sometimes just going with your gut or one reason is actually a good choice too – ignorance can be better than information overload.

Satisfaction or analysis?

Following on from my last post, I’ve been thinking about the idea of satisfactory. I guess I’ve always thought of satisfactory as a bad thing. Whenever you rate something the options are poor, satisfactory (meaning ok, not very good really), good and very good. Yet in terms of life and happiness and contentment, satisfaction is pretty great.

I’ve just finished a second decision-making book, and in some ways it seems to contradict the ideas relating to maximisation and satisficing.

2. (Over?) Analysing

(Smart choices: A practical guide to making better life decisions, by John Hammond, Ralph Keeney and Howard Raiffa)

Some good ideas in this book: Framing your decision problem well, looking for creative alternative options, and clarifying your objectives. However a huge amount of detail on qualifying and quantifying and trade-offs and risks and consequences which all seem to point towards maximisation rather than satisficing.

I definitely haven’t actively considered my objectives when making past decisions, and this really is so important. If you don’t know what you want to get from a choice, then you have little chance of making the right one. Another thing I’m definitely guilty of is falling into psychological traps, about which this book gives a great overview.

Some key psychological traps to consider when making a decision are:

1. Over-relying on first thoughts, i.e. getting an idea into your head which then anchors your thinking.

2. Sticking with the current situation because it’s easier to do that than make a decision – ask yourself whether you would actively choose your current situation if you weren’t in it and were comparing it to other options.

3. Protecting earlier choices – something I’m sure lots of people, including myself, are guilty of. It’s really important to see each decision separately without linking it to the past. Decisions only affect the future and you can’t change past mistakes, only accept them and move on. If you’re in a hole, stop digging.

4. Seeing what you want to see – trying only to confirm your own thoughts isn’t helpful, you need to be challenged by contradictions and alternative views. Get someone to play devil’s advocate and see things from a different perspective.

5. Posing the wrong question – framing questions differently affects your thoughts and choices.

(The book goes into more detail about these and more, but the above 5 definitely stood out to me)

Step 2 for becoming an excellent decision maker: Beware psychological traps. Also define objectives and alternatives.