How do you prepare yourself for a new activity? I didn’t put too much thought into this until I was at a conference a few years ago. I can’t remember the topic but I distinctly recall standing at a urinal when a guy walked into the bathroom and shouted at the mirror, “You are Lizard King! You can do anything!” He then left as quickly as he had appeared.
Ten minutes later I was shocked as the “Lizard King” was introduced as the keynote speaker. After the presentation, I asked him about his display. He wasn’t embarrassed, although he claimed that he didn’t see anyone in the bathroom. The keynote stated that it’s simply his pre-speech ritual. “It must psych you up?” I asked. “It use to,” he responded, “now it’s just something I do to center myself before I stand in front of a crowd.”
Similarly, in a recent interview, Inside the Actors Studio host James Lipton discussed his pre-show rituals. It begins with the hours of meticulous research Lipton conducts on the person being interviewed. This can take months and Lipton prefers to do it by himself. He then transcribes his notes onto his trademark blue index cards and marks them up with post-it tabs and highlighters before they are neatly stacked in a 10-inch pile on his desk while taping the show.
My nightmare, somebody steals my cards.—James Lipton
Rituals like Lipton and the Lizard King are more than simply superstition or habit; they have been shown to have a positive affect on performance. In a study published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Alison Woods Brooks found that many top-level performers use rituals to help them prepare. These rituals significantly reduce anxiety and produce a higher quality work product. By mitigating the distracting, disruptive indicators associated with anxiety through pre-performance routines, Brooks concluded, “although some may dismiss rituals as irrational, those who enact rituals may well outperform the skeptics who forgo them.”
The lesson here is that we need a consistent ritual that precedes our stress-inducing events. You can go big (like screaming into a public bathroom mirror) or more subtle. Drink a glass of room temperature water. Read a poem or inspirational quote. Click your heals three times. Whatever you can do to center yourself and jumpstart that inner “on” switch. I’m sure Lipton would even be okay if you used index cards, although maybe you can find a color other than blue.
Welcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a marvelous schpeck of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just a schpeck? Because it’s the weekend!
After a failed endeavor, I can be hard on myself. There tends to be a flurry of such overly critical reflections as “If only I had…” or “Why didn’t I think of…”. These lessons learned can be productive to a point, but there comes a time when you have to move on. That’s why I enjoyed Billy Crystal’s second-hand advice.
On WTF Podcast with Marc Maron, Billy Crystal was discussing an incident last year when he was visiting his long-time friend, legendary Hollywood manager Jack Rollins. Crystal’s new series Comedians was premiering that night and he was anxiously excited.
[Jack Rollins] grabbed my hand and says, ‘Are you happy with your work on the show? Do you feel good about what you did on the show?’ And I said ‘Yes, very much so.’ He says, ‘That’s most important because they can never take that away from you.’ I carry that around with me.
This guidance may not seem particularly novel, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary. As leaders, there are few people who are going to congratulate you for your efforts. Most don’t see the struggle you put into your projects, while others simply don’t consider offering a boss the same support they would offer a co-worker. That leaves you to feel proud of yourself.
We need to get into the habit of discerning how we feel about the work we put into an accomplishment before knowing the outcome. That way, the self-accolades can seep into our psyche and help us brace for the subsequent result. It will ease the blow of defeat knowing we did all we could or, preferably, give us all the more reason to celebrate after the win. Either way, it seems healthier than tormenting ourselves on what should have been.
Welcome to another addition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a boulevard of thought to start your weekend off on the right track. Why a boulevard? Because it’s the weekend!
For the more competitive leaders amongst us, our greatest and most frequent adversary is ourself. We may try to blame it on the opposing counsel of a contract dispute or that one VP who’s battling for our turf, but we are really trying to “win” because that’s what we do.
One way we own our conquests is by outworking everyone else. This is viable for a while, but as Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong discussed in a recent Rolling Stone interview, its long-term sustainability is not as practical.
Armstrong started the band with a strict rule—each album and subsequent tour had to lead into the next. He felt that bands who took breaks were never the same when they returned. This led to 25 years of success until things (both personally and professionally) began to crumble. Now, coming off the longest break of Green Day’s run with a soon-to-be-released album, Armstrong has gained a new perspective.
You can’t be enthusiastic for the sake of enthusiasm. You have to get out of trying to outdo and one-up yourself all the time. [Green Day] had to break that habit, because suddenly we weren’t really being ourselves anymore… I was a little burnt out on being in Green Day. We needed to stop.”
I like his phrase enthusiastic for the sake of enthusiasm. It implies a need to prioritize efforts, work smarter (versus harder) and present a sincere version of ourself. It does not say that we need to lower expectations or embrace laziness, but that we need to conserve the fight for the times when fighting is necessary.