This is a continuation of our series on how to be more effective as a manager in a "people business." The first article in this series suggested that whether running your operation seems like being lost in the weeds or spending a day at the beach is strictly a function of your perspective. The beach is available to you but you can't see it from the weed patch. In the second installment, we looked at different models of management (the cop vs. the coach) and explored the idea that in the age of service it is our human skills that will determine the degree of our success. The third explored the power of presence - of being totally in the moment with people. The next notion for your consideration involves the concept of state of mind.
The key to truly understanding why people do what they do lies in grasping the power of state of mind. State of mind might be called your level of well-being, your feeling of personal security or your mood. In simple terms, being in love is a very high state of mind while being angry is a low one.
WHEN YOU'RE HOT, YOU'RE HOT
Joy and exhilaration are high states of mind. Many people have experienced a natural state approaching joy when they were in love. At these higher levels, we are able to take life as it comes without a problem. We have a natural appreciation for the world around you and find that we have an instinctive knack for human relations. Exceptional service happens almost automatically when people are in a high state of mind because they are naturally compassionate and genuinely want to take good care of others.
Even respect, patience and curiosity are high states of mind although a step down the ladder and not nearly as absorbing as being in love. We may experience contentment, confidence or appreciation. We find that we are productive, focused and team-oriented. Life looks good to us.
Below respect is a state of mind that is sort of like neutral. We are just mildly aware of the events of our lives. We might feel apathetic or even bored with what is happening around us. Life is not bad, but it probably does not seem very exciting, either.
WHEN YOU'RE NOT, YOU'RE NOT
In lower states of mind, the world looks increasingly unfriendly. As someone's level of personal security drops, their sense of well-being declines. They start becoming confused and irritable. They tend to be critical, impatient and distant. They are easily distracted and become less and less involved in what is going on around them.
In very low states of mind, everything people see seems like a threat and they respond appropriately. They feel totally disconnected from the people and the events in their lives. They are apt to be depressed, hostile or scared. Their behavior is defensive, sometimes violently so.
MOODS AND THE EXPERIENCE OF LIFE
We typically refer to these shifts in a person's natural level of well-being as moods. The important thing to note at this point is that as the mood (state of mind/level of well-being) changes, the way a person's world looks to them also changes. Notice, too, that the events of life don't change but the way they appear to the individual changes radically.
For example, let's say two people are driving to work in separate cars one behind the other. One person is in love, the other is having a really bad day. Do you think they each have a different experience of the morning's traffic? Count on it! You know from personal experience that when you are having a bad day, everything is a disaster! Conversely, when you feel wonderful, the whole world just seems to work more easily for you. The events of the day don't change, but their impact changes significantly!
Here's another way to think of the relationship between state of mind and your thoughts. Most lakes and ponds are beautiful. But if you drop the water level about ten feet, you are going to see a lot of debris. There are rocks, logs, bottles and who knows what else under the surface. It is not very pretty. When the level is low, you can spend days, even months, trying to clean up the bottom of the lake and you won't make a noticeable difference. If you allow the water level to rise, however, the lake will be beautiful again. All the junk is still down there, but it is no longer an issue.
People are the same way. When their level of well-being drops, their world starts to look quite threatening. They are likely to do, say or think any number of ugly things. As with the lake, this ugliness will always exist at low levels - you can't clean it up. However, when someone's level of personal security (state of mind) rises, all the unpleasantness just disappears naturally. It may still be down there, but it is not an issue.
THE NATURAL STATE
It is important to understand that a high state of mind is the natural condition and not the exception. Little babies are high most of the time. Now babies certainly have unpleasant moments but their crying is typically their way to communicate physical, rather than psychological, distress. It is only when babies get old enough to start thinking that their moods start to appear.
In fact, it is simply the weight of thoughts that drags down a person's level of well-being. Have you ever used the phrase, "He's got a lot on his mind right now" as an explanation of why someone is irritable, distant or distracted? If so, you were closer to the truth than you may have realized. This is obviously a subject that deserves to be explored in more detail but for now just understand that it is the quantity of thoughts that brings down a person's level of thinking and that as the level of thinking gets lower, the quality of a person's thoughts become more negative. The worse it gets, the worse it gets.
THINKING DETERMINES BEHAVIOR
What this suggests is that a person's state of mind determines how the world looks to them which in turn determines their behavior. Once you grasp this idea, you will start to realize something remarkable - a person's behavior is only a symptom of their state of mind. When someone's state of mind changes, their behavior will naturally change right along with it, either for the better or for the worse.
This also suggests that there are no really bad people, only good people who are stuck in a low level of thinking. Admittedly some folks can spend their entire adult lives stuck in insecure thinking but healthy functioning is only an insight away. This spontaneous shift of understanding is often called a change of heart.
CHANGE OF HEART
To give you an idea of what I am pointing toward here, imagine that you are a parent with a particularly energetic (destructive? strong-willed? evil?) two year-old. It is evening and the kid has been an absolute terror all day. You are exhausted and have finally managed to get him into bed but you are still seething at the hassle this "monster" has put you through all day. Then you look in on him when he's asleep and you are touched by the innocence of the child. Your heart melts, a flood of good feelings sweep over you and you wonder how you could ever have thought ill of this marvelous being.
This sudden shift of understanding is what I mean by a change of heart. It is spontaneous, natural and compelling. You experience an almost instantaneous change in your state of mind and with it, a shift in the way the things in your life appear to you. It may be easier to understand how thinking determines reality when it comes to children but it is no different with any other person or event in your life.
I know what when I saw my staff as a bunch of crooks who would rob me blind if I didn't watch them every minute, I was not disappointed. When I saw the same people as intelligent adults who really wanted to make a contribution if they only had the opportunity to do so, I was not disappointed either.
STATE OF MIND AND STABILITY
A person's state of mind also determines how well they can handle the everyday ravages of life. Human relations consultant Robert Kausen gives the following example:
"Imagine that you and your employees are making an ocean voyage in small sailboats. If the seas are calm, each sailor can manage his or her boat fairly well. Some will be more expert than others but none will get into serious difficulty. Now suppose that a weather system develops; winds pick up and swells increase. The expert sailors enjoy the change while the novices become tense and worried. If a full storm develops, the experts will be challenged just to keep from swamping while the less experienced may capsize and drown. Under these conditions, completing the journey, let alone enjoying it, is lost to the needs of pure survival."
In a high state of mind, everybody is an expert sailor on the seas of life. In a low state of mind, we are all novices.
Once you start to understand that behavior is only a reflection of people's level of thinking (and not a statement about the people themselves), you will become more effective in all your dealings with others.
I expect some readers might still think that these notions about state of mind, thinking and behavior seem pretty theoretical and quite removed from the needs of real life. Next I will share a personal example of how I applied this understanding in my last foodservice operation to neutralize what could have been a real "Day from Hell."