In last week’s blogs, I shared how my father influenced my attitudes to project management, and discussed five of those lessons under the general heading of “A Generous Way”. This week, I will complete the story with two more sets of lessons: on Thursday, under the heading of “A Careful Way” and today, thinking about how my father’s attitudes formed “A Harmonious Way”.
Thinking back over how my father lived his life and how he came across to others, this is the area that has really grabbed me. Over the last couple of years, I have become more interested in the research field of Positive Psychology and have written a few blogs about it. These five lessons could equally come from a book on that subject.
Accept what comes
My father was not a fatalist. He had a very positive attitude to shaping his own future. But he also knew when not to fight circumstances and to just get on with dealing with the world as it is. I have a strong recollection of being extremely disappointed at not getting the university place I had wanted, in my late teens. My father’s response is that it may be for the best and that things would work out fine. They did. Who knows what an alternative future may look like, but I am more than happy with the life I have. Not because he encouraged me to accept the failure, but because he taught me to move on and take the opportunities that were there for me.
One lesson from positive psychology has always stood out for me. It is one my father embodied. All research shows that we are at our happiest when we take time, regularly, to reflect upon and acknowledge what we have to be thankful for. It is all too easy to dwell on our sorrows, and I can wholly recommend the process, for anyone going through a particularly tough patch, of keeping a “gratitude journal”.
A gratitude journal is a book in which you periodically record what you have to be grateful for. At a tricky time in my life, I started a notebook and, each evening, disciplined myself to write at least one thing which, that day, I felt grateful for. Sometimes its was a small or specific event, sometimes it was a wider reflection on one of the good things about my life. Over the course of a couple of months, everything did seem enormously more positive.
Look forward to the future …
Philip Zimbardo is the Stamford psychologist who, famously, led the Stanford Prison Experiment. His recent book, “The Time Paradox: Using the New Psychology of Time to Your Advantage” is about how we orient ourselves to time and in it, he and co-author, John Boyd, describe the Zimbardo Time Perception Inventory (ZTPI) and six psychological orientations that we have towards time. People with a future orientation readily delay gratification, putting off pleasure now to harvest a greater pleasure in the future. My father was a planner – not in the sense of making grand plans, nor even documenting his plans as project managers do. But his future orientation was clear in the way that he was always working towards a better future for himself and his family.
… and live in the present
Zimbardo and Boyd also identify two different orientations towards the present. They examine the shortcomings of a fatalistic and a hedonistic orientation, before looking at how we can gain the benefits of a present orientation by living in each moment.
The challenge for those of us with a strong future orientation (as many of my readers will have) is that we often miss the joy of the present moment. When we get to the end of a day’s work early, many of us will see it as an opportunity to get a jump start on tomorrow’s work. The danger with this is that, when we finish tomorrow’s work early, we will do the same, and so never harvest the benefits of our diligence. My father knew how to stop and enjoy the moment. When your project is ahead of schedule, then use some of the time to celebrate that fact. The benefit in motivating your team and feeling mentally refreshed is enormous. I know this: I wish I could act it out a little more often!
Know the value of things
Some people seem to know the cost of everything; yet the value of nothing. My father had a sharp sense of what was important and what was not. He knew when to spend money and when not to. One of the most important skills for a project manager is to know how to distinguish cost and value, and therefore make wise decisions when choosing what resources to deploy, to reach the end goal.
The “so what?”
Be thankful for what is going well, fully acknowledge what is not and get on with fixing it. Invest time and effort now, to build for the future, but when you are ahead of plan, take sometime off to celebrate that, and re-charge your batteries. Make your decisions based on cost and value.