Ralph Wolf & Sam Sheepdog on Contemplation

Would you rather sit alone in quiet self-reflection or receive an electric shock? If you’re like most participants in a recent study, you will choose the shock. Why is it so difficult to do nothing but think? Is it a case of being more like Ralph Wolf than Sam Sheepdog?

If you’re a fan of the classic Looney Tunes cartoons, then you remember the never-ending battle between Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog. They would arrive at work together with a lighthearted greeting and then go their separate ways. Ralph spent the day trying to steal sheep while Sam invariably stopped him. Let’s examine their different styles.

Ralph Wolf was in constant motion. He always had a new scheme to get the sheep. In a single day, five to six plans failed and there were more to come. On the flipside, Sam Sheepdog spent his time in thoughtful introspection, protecting his herd.  No matter how outlandish the trick, nothing got past him.

Sometimes negative stimulation is preferable to no stimulation. – Timothy Wilson, University of Virginia psychology professor

As leaders, we spend so much time running around attempting to put out fires with our Ralph-like perpetual momentum that we ignore the need for Sam-like strategic contemplation. Contemplation allows for the ability to learn from past mistakes. Leaders who master this skill are less apt to repeat mistakes and, with time, proactively address issues before they become all-out problems. Translation: there are less fires to chase because you’ve decreased the chance of fires.

In this modern age, with all the gadgets we have, people seem to fill up every moment with some external activity. – Timothy Wilson

If contemplation sounds time consuming, think again. According to a Harvard University study, spending just fifteen minutes at the end of the workday to reflect on your day will result in higher performance and greater self-efficacy. Before you leave work this afternoon, try these simple steps:

  1. Pick one thing you did today. (What happened?)
  2. Give a step-by-step of how it happened. (Was it resolved? How did you react? How did the others involved react?)
  3. Analyze the situation. (What have you learned from this? Is there anything you could have done better? Is there a better way to react next time it happens?)

It’s easy to blink and realize the week is over and you haven’t accomplished any of the big picture items that needed your attention. Contemplation helps you prioritize your efforts. With a clear mind, you’re more likely to dodge common pitfalls, maintain a holistic outlook, and ultimately be a more effective leader. You might even avoid getting thrown off a cliff by a giant sheepdog.

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