I’ve tried a few different diets (Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, Volumetrics, the bean diet, the peanut butter diet, and a handful of others) and Weight Watchers is the hands-down winner from a number of perspectives:

(1)    I lost weight on it—a lot of weight. I lost 60 pounds the first time I tried it, 70 the second, and 60 the third. No, those were not incremental and yes, the reason I had to do the Weight Watchers dive multiple times is because I kept gaining the weight back. (Incidentally, each weight gain coincided with a new job, a job that was hitting the skids, or a job that was going so well, I let it take over my life.)

Brace yourself but you can't get fit eating this stuff. Impossible. (Image via Wikimedia; Source: Penarc)

(2)    It’s fairly flexible. I’m not restricted to eating just protein or just solids with high water content or just, and you’re not going to believe this one, beans.

(3)    It’s about as healthful as healthful gets. If you do it right, you’re minimizing calories and fat as you kick up the fiber in your diet, all while guzzling more water than a desert nomad. Without realizing it, you’ll end up eating more of all the heart-healthy kinds of essentials and much less sub-optimal food.

(4)    When you pair it up with intensive and consistent exercise, it’s unstoppable. The pounds will melt away.

But odds are that like me, even the most dutiful Weight Watcher will find herself gaining all the weight back and then some. Apparently, only 5% of dieters keep weight off after 5 years of dieting (Trieu, 2007).

Why?

Weight Watchers knows. All these diet companies know.  In fact, they’re beginning to acknowledge it.

Go to the WeightWatchers.com site and what’s the first tag line you see?

“Change starts here.” It starts here but it doesn’t end here? Hmmm….

Then take a look at the “Success Stories.” How many of them feature people who have lost weight on Weight Watchers (!) and gained it back? Dinorah’s story is a good example.

Click on the “Eat Well” tab. Wait, eat what? That’s right, “eat well.”

All-out cheese? On Weight Watchers? Not likely. But all-out mixed messages? Yeah, likely. (Image via Wikimedia)

Then, what do you see? Yep, three—count ‘em, THREE—separate articles on Thanksgiving, including one called “Thanksgiving Countdown.” We’re counting down to a turkey feast? On a diet?!!! Hee-haww! Now, this is what I call a weight loss plan. All I have to do is starve myself a little but keep in the back of my mind the simple thought that in just days, I’ll be stuffing myself so full I could be the premiere float in the next Macy’s parade. But best of all, Weight Watchers will help me run the countdown. That’s what I call service.

My favorite, though, is the “Topic” link toward the bottom of the page: “All-Out Cheese.”

All-out cheese? What kind of diet IS this? We can eat cheese all-out? I can go hog-wild on cheese?

Honestly, every time I read this, I think about that film, Defending Your Life, where the main character gets to eat anything he wants risk-free while he’s on trial in the afterlife. (Take a look at the 2:53 mark in the following clip.)


But then I click on the “How Weight Watchers Works” tab and I see something different:

“We know you want to keep weight off for the long haul. What you eat is important, and the Momentum program will help you to make smart choices and keep hunger in check. And what you learn will stay with you for a lifetime.”

And Weight Watchers is by no means the only diet organization sending mixed messages. A friend of mine went to see a diabetes-specialized dietitian. One of the first pamphlets she handed him was a guide to fast food. Are you kidding me? Want a quick guide to fast food? Here’s mine: Never get any again. But, Mike, what about all the salads? Salads? The three leaves of lettuce that comprise those salads didn’t fill up the very hungry caterpillar and they won’t fill up a grown human being either. Skip fast food. Period.

Weight Watchers telling everyone to eat well, dietitians guiding diabetics to fast food, what’s going on here?

Can I stuff myself beyond recognition at the nearest Mickey D’s or do I have to eat smarter? Can I get drunk on mozzarella the next time I have to work late, or do I have to eat more thoughtfully? Can I make long-term, life-long changes on diets such as Weight Watchers or does change only START here? Will these people make up their minds?

Well, the problem is they can’t because—and I’m only guessing here—the marketers want to make this diet as accessible to every human being as it can possibly be while the nutritionists want it to work. As long as the forces of evil battle the forces of good for diet supremacy, we’re going to see this tension on even the better diet program Web sites such as Weight Watchers.

To its credit, the Weight Watchers organization seems to be sending purer, more homogeneous messages of late. See the Jennifer Hudson campaign as an example:

But the problem, as we have seen on Weight Watchers’ Web site, is still out there. Needless to say, if Weight Watchers can’t make up its mind about whether it wants dieters to feel as if they can eat with abandon or make smarter choices, then how can its dieters?

Dieters end up food-obsessed (just check out the Weight Watchers message boards) and bouncing on and off the program. They even have a glossary for the bounce. They say they’re “on program” when they’re sticking to it and “off program” when they’re not.

If my history is any indication, when you start using words like “off program,” you’re done. Consider yourself an official yo-yo once you start brandishing the binary diet language.  The very possibility of leaving the program makes you vulnerable to recidivism.

Again, per my last post, it comes down to RESOLVE. You’re either in it to win it or you’re not.

These thoughts are hardly revolutionary. Just two years ago, a handful of researchers in Australia captured the reasons why dieters drop off and then jump back on a program (including Weight Watchers). They pointed to the mixed messages coming from diet companies and singled out the following dieter’s representation of the problem: “They all work..when you stick to them. It’s when you go off them that they don’t” (Thomas et al, 2008, p. 4).

Let me summarize the tips emerging from this post:

(1)    Resolve is everything. Per the last post, you have to stick to the diet.

(2)    I know this is going to come as a huge shock to some of you but on any respectable diet plan such as Weight Watchers, you can’t have anything you want most of the time. You can’t. I’m sorry. You CAN have some things you want in controlled portions once in a while BUT all-out cheese and fast food? No. No way.

(3)    There’s no off-program, on-program. There’s always on program (but see the tips below for how to think about this).

(4)    This DOES NOT mean you can’t have non-diet meals. Your program has to allow for those meals. If your program does not allow for those meals, then modify the program or find a different one. You can’t spend your life eating one type of food or even one series of foods because sooner or later, you, your family, or friends will go nuts watching you and they will—mark my words—try to sabotage your efforts. You will have to make portion-controlled concessions from time to time: your diet MUST allow for this. How to do this will require a blog post all to itself (coming soon) but for now, just consider the thoughts here.

(5)    Counting points or sticking to one type of food does breed obsessiveness. Use methods such as Weight Watchers’ point system to learn how to make smart choices and then free yourself from it. If you’re THINKING properly about how to get fit and feel better, you won’t need the point system after a while. You’ll make those smart choices because you’ve internalized the lessons and WANT to get fitter and feel better.

(6)    Do find a diet such as Weight Watchers; the online channel is fine. It provides a healthful approach to getting fitter and leaner.

So, what do you think? Am I right? Or, do you have experiences to the contrary?  Do tell! Would love to hear your thoughts.

-          Mike Raven

References

Thomas, S.L., Hyde, J., Karunaratne, A., Kausman, R., & Komesaroff, P.A. (2008). “They all work when you stick to them: A qualitative investigation of dieting, weight loss, and physical exercise in obese individuals. Nutrition Journal, 7, 1-7.

Trieu, G.(2007). How many Weight Watchers points is that?. Retrieved from http://www.healthyweightforum.org/eng/articles/weight_watchers_points/

Ever notice how the thing that turns losers into heroes is the knowledge that they CAN do something they were sure they couldn’t do?

Who can forget the Jedi-style arse-whoopin’ Luke took when Yoda showed him that with proper resolve and concentration, an X-Wing Fighter CAN in fact be levitated out of a swamp on Dagobah?

Luke’s defense? “I can’t believe it,” to which Yoda responded, “That is why you fail.”

Or, do you remember how through a combination of time-travel and renewed confidence, Harry Potter was able to defeat a cattle-rush of dementors? Once again, our loser-turned-hero reveals the secret of his success: “You were right, Hermione! It wasn’t my dad I saw earlier! It was me! I saw myself conjuring the patronus before!  I knew I could do it this time, because well, I’d already done it! Does that make sense?”

And then there are the superheroes. Spiderman (think Tobey Maguire struggling with his moral commitment to the Spidey suit), Batman (particularly Chris Nolan’s first where Bruce Wayne has to find “the courage to do what is necessary”), even the cult-classic Supergirl film where the words “You can” literally free her from the hands of a monster (see the 2:15 mark in the YouTube clip below)—all highlight the essential fact that belief predicates action. We can do something because we believe we can do it.

To do heroic things, to change our lives or the lives of others in seismic ways, we have to believe we can do it. Such belief requires total and absolute resolve. Likewise, to make huge changes in our own lives, to look and feel better no matter what’s happening to us at work, we’ll have to be resolved—purely, totally, and absolutely.

I can hear the objections already:

  • “Whoa there, tiger!  I have a job. I have kids.  What do you want me to do?  Drop in the middle of a meeting and do 20 pushups?”

  • “You’re nuts! There are expectations. I can’t start eating bird seed while everyone else is chowing down on a steak at Morton’s during a business dinner.”

  • “My company’s caving in around me and you want me to starve myself and run around the block a couple of times? I have things to do!”

No one’s talking about starving but yeah, the steak is out (for reasons well beyond cholesterol and the other usual suspects; I’ll explore these in subsequent entries). The point is that compromise and negotiation may be the tools of the trade when you’re structuring a strategic partnership or working a product through development but they don’t cut it when it comes to improving your health.

You either make the rules and do it full monte or you don’t.

The objectors break in again:

“No, no no, Mike. You don’t get it. You’re such an extremist. With you it’s always black and white. Listen, you can do little things. A little bit of exercise here, a little bit of dieting there—it worked for me before, it’ll work again.”

Oh, yeah? It worked for you before, huh? That means, at some point it stopped working which is why you’re considering doing something again. So, ultimately it…uh…wait for it… FAILED.

The cabbage soup diet is about as healthful and lifetime-sustainable as a BP oil line. Bon appetit! (Image via Wikimedia; Credit: Sloveniagirl)

If it worked for some time and then didn’t work anymore for whatever reason (your job changed, your life changed, the weather changed, whatever), it failed. Assuming the diet wasn’t some crackpot liquid or cabbage-type fiasco (which would fail for a host of reasons)but was a healthful intervention (such as Weight Watchers), why did it stop working? What changed? That’s right: RESOLVE. When we’re on a roll and doing well on a diet and fitness program, our resolve is strong but yes, things can get in the way. When that happens, we cease to believe in the importance or priority of the program anymore. We stop believing in the all-importance of our health.

One important footnote to this is that the diet companies themselves bear a great deal of responsibility for our decaying resolve (I’ll explore this in my next post) but regardless of who is to blame, it is we who stop believing in our own efforts to look and feel better.

So, Tip #12 is as follows:

  • Resolve to get healthy. Resolve completely, totally, and absolutely to do what it takes to look and feel better.
  • In our resolutions, we should focus on improving our health, not on weight loss. We all know that being overweight is a bad thing but it is not THE thing. If we do the things we need to do to make our bodies work better, then weight loss will go hand-in-hand with our improved health.
  • Resolve that we have no choice. Health insurance may or may not be optional depending on how political forces play out but good health itself should NEVER be optional.
  • We should make our commitment to good health part of our life, part of the way in which we identify ourselves. Far from being ashamed of it, we should wear it proudly.
  • Above all, believe. Believe that we can do it, and do it.

Because when we stop believing, that is why we fail.

(In my next entry, I’ll look carefully at why a diet such as Weight Watchers is a terrific diet—perhaps the best–but MUST ALWAYS fail unless we change the way we think about and deploy it).

Would somebody please get Charlie Sheen some help? If even half the things people are saying about him are true, the guy has got big problems: surely, one of his friends (to the extent that he has any real ones) or members of his family (to the extent that they’re capable) need to do something for him. I mean, we’d all do the same for our own loved ones, right?

Charlie Sheen (Image via Wikimedia, Credit: Angela George)

Well, maybe.

The guy did bring a lot of this on himself. No one forced him to do coke, hookers, and everything in between.  He’s had a hit film run, has a hit TV sitcom—what IS his excuse exactly?

But then there are the other pieces. We don’t know how he was raised, or how he wasn’t. When he felt like grabbing another kid’s ball on the playground, was his mother/nanny/generic,-easily-and-frequently-replaced-caregiver giving him a nod and a wink to say, “It’s okay, hon. I don’t give a crap.”

We don’t know what his mental and physiological predispositions are, whether he’s genetically prone to depression and addiction, for example. We don’t know how many good doctors turned him away, how many bad ones are in his pocket, enabling him.

We don’t really know what it’s like to be on a Hollywood set, what the expectations are, how he’s expected to behave, and what the consequences are for failure to comply.

There are just a lot of moving parts here and while it may be easy to blame him for his own mess, should we, really? Sheen has made a lot of bad choices but per my earlier post, were they all really his to make or were some of them made for him, constructed for him by where he came from and how? As entrenched in his own history, choices, and consequences as he is, can he even see the way out?

I don’t have a clue. I don’t know anything about Charlie Sheen but I do know something about me and, perhaps, people who behave like me.

What I do know is that we can all get ourselves into some pretty big messes of our own as we sacrifice our physical and mental health for satisfaction and perceived security at the office. Like an addiction, life at the office can absolutely consume us, landing us in a mess that could probably look something like Charlie’s (though without the drugs, non-prescription, anyway).

And I know we can’t even begin to see our way out of those messes until we understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and find alternatives. Only by holding ourselves accountable for our messes, can we crawl out from underneath them.

When business is good, we’re almost happy to kill ourselves for the sake of our work. We eat and caffeinate ourselves to keep ourselves humming like a tuning fork because God knows, louder than even the sound and fury of all that work is the deafening vibrato of silence.

We stop for nothing—as long as we remain seated. We get up and move around only to find something with which to steel ourselves for the big meeting or a protracted date with Excel.  Coffee and donuts work but donuts certainly aren’t hip so we find other things, less obviously unhealthy things that are still sugar-, fat-, and calorie-rich, nonetheless.

KFC's Double Down: Death by bunless fried chicken (Image via Wikimedia, Credit: Michael Saechang)

When we worry, REALLY worry about whether we will succeed in all the fine and noble things we do behind a laptop, at a meeting, or while we’re on our way to a client site, we don’t have to worry for long: Vending machines, gas station convenience stores, and of course, airport concessions are there with new and powerful intoxicants such as KFC’s Double Down and anything with the word holiday next to it at Starbucks. Thousands of fat and sugar calories later, even a piss-poor Powerpoint deck can start looking snazzy.

When business is bad, well we know the drill there. A post or so ago, I ran through a scenario in which employees increasingly become lost in multiple business reorganizations and shifting quarterly goals. Some find surer footing, some don’t, but the point is that through it all, they can very likely lose themselves. When we don’t know where we’ll be working from quarter to quarter, or whether we’ll be working at all, is it any wonder that we eat, drink, and yes, be merry to make ourselves feel better?

But there is a way out for us (still not sure about Charlie).

If we examine ourselves and our behaviors, really try to understand why we just hit the office vending machine for a Twix, or treated ourselves to a peanut butter shake at Cold Stone Creamery just before a client presentation, or thought that General Tso was a mandatory invitee on order-in Fridays—if we dissected all the things we know we shouldn’t be doing, we’d be well on our way to putting a stop to them.

So, Corporate Survival Tip #34:

Look at everything you put in your body and everything you do to your body, and ask why. If you know it’s a bad thing to do, ask yourself why you need to do it. If the answer is that you can’t imagine life without these things, that’s fine for now. If the answer is that you just haven’t had time to think about these things, that’s fine for now, too. As long as the answer you come up with sounds right to you, as long as you’re truthful with yourself about it, then it’s a start. Over time as you continue to think about these choices, you’ll either end up validating them as good ones or rejecting them as bad ones. When you’re ready, and ONLY when you’re ready, make any changes you think follow from your self-examination.

Accountability is the key.  Once we understand what we’re doing to ourselves and why, we can find the motivation and strength to make changes.

Ironically Charlie Sheen himself underscores this very point in his classic cameo in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “Your problem is you,” he said to Jennifer Grey’s character.

(Take a look at the minute mark in this video)

Your problem is you. Our problem is us. It isn’t the easiest thing to accept; in fact, Jennifer Grey ended up threatening to cut off one of Charlie’s balls.

But if we can get past the guilt, ire, and self-incrimination, we might just get the help we need.

-          Mike Raven

For decades, James ‘The Amazing’ Randi has offered a ton of cash to anyone who can prove psychic powers. Currently at a million bucks, the prize will go to anyone who can show under experimental conditions, anything resembling telepathy, psychokinesis, paranormal contact with the dead—you name it. (Note that to date, no one has received the money.)

Given that Halloween is fast upon us, I’d like to do some debunking of my own (though true to the spirit of my blog). I’d like to take on what I believe to be nothing short of one of the greatest paranormal cognitive phenomena—a myth nothing short of the business equivalent of Loch Ness: Multi-Tasking!

I will award ONE genuine Halloween Snickers or Hershey bar—your choice—to the first person who can prove the existence of REAL business multi-tasking. Here is how I define multi-tasking:

The big prize awaits if you can prove the existence of multi-tasking. (Image: Mr. Billion/Wikimedia)

The multi-tasker must be able to prove she can solve two intellectual business problems at once. Let me be clear: If you are relaying between the two tasks—say, developing a competitive landscape of the document compliance industry, then switching to developing the financials for a business case, then switching back to the competitive landscape—you DON’T win the candy. Obviously, if you are in a meeting and tuning your boss in and out as you scan your Facebook page, occasionally drifting into your email inbox to respond to some underlings doing your work for you, that wouldn’t qualify either.

To win the loot, you have to be the first person to prove that you can be engaged in at least two intellectual, problem-solving business tasks SIMULTANEOUSLY.

Why? Simple: As I pointed out in my last post, the recession has exacerbated a big problem. Good talent is getting lost in big corporations.  As more and more people get laid off and big companies don’t know what they’re doing from quarter to quarter, those companies are passing more and more responsibility onto people who have neither the skills nor the bandwidth to accommodate the incremental work load.

The employees try to manage their managers’ expectations but what do they hear?

Multi-task! Get it done! Budget your time more effectively! Of course, the implication of all this is that if those employees can’t get it done, then the corporation can easily find someone else to do it. Believable, indeed, given that corporations these days are nothing if not good at firing their own employees and outsourcing to fill the gaps.

Bottom line: All work is incremental. There is no such thing as multi-tasking… unless you can PROVE otherwise.

So, in the spirit of Halloween, let’s tackle the supernatural business dimension, if you will, and see if we can put the multi-tasking myth to rest.

Any takers?

- Mike Raven

 

I’ve never been good at taking care of stuff, particularly other people’s but my own, as well.

Who cares about a calculator, anyway? (Image: Wikimedia)

When I was in high school, my father lent me what was then a fairly advanced (and expensive) scientific calculator.  I crammed it into a deep recess of my backpack because, as my wife would comment years later about similar incidents, I could not be bothered to place it somewhere safe.

When I needed it, I’d pull it out, quickly slam it on the desk, and begin punching the keys. No time to coddle this thing.

When I didn’t have a moment to reach into the crowded, nether-regions of my knapsack for a ruler, I’d use the calculator. Sure, I ticked up the sides of the housing but what did I care? It was all about the job.

And, since I couldn’t be bothered to buy a decent knapsack to begin with or resist stuffing it to overcapacity, two things eventually happened:

(1) The calculator disappeared.  It had apparently slipped through a widening hole in the nylon, and was MIA for 2 days until my math teacher found it.

(2) Upon recovering it, I noticed a full-on lightning-style crack a la Harry Potter had seared through its tiny greenish LED screen.

But, of course, as I learned that we have to pay for things we break and suffer all sorts of indignities even in full payment, I’ve become more selective in what I abuse.  My wife has it right: I can’t be bothered to take care of certain things because I am too busy focusing on others.

I wish I could say I take care of the whole wonderful world of the stuff I touch but I neither can nor wish to.  In business terms, I achieve greater operational efficiencies by taking advantage of what I call the Law of Selective Abuse. We consume, even trash and destroy, some resources liberally so that we can generate some exponentially greater level of value for ourselves (or organization).

Insurance companies have to wrestle with this concept all the time. Think moral hazard. How often do you floor a rental car? How often do you floor your own? When you sheath a DVD you’re about to return to Netflix or pre-chapter-11 Blockbuster, do you carefully slide it into its case or smush your oily fingers all over its neat concentric lines like a perp getting fingerprinted?

Moral hazard, indeed! (Image via Wikimedia)

Now, what if the resources we were trashing in the name of operational efficiency and productivity were our own people, our own employees? Yikes.

The analogy works well. Heading into this latest recession, companies carried a lot of infrastructure (i.e., a full knapsack). Lots of people, lots of expensive but outdated software implementations, lots of real estate and equipment, and lots of projects and even businesses that in many large corporations, couldn’t really be accounted for.

Then, witness the collapse of financial services companies: This not only limited borrowing power but also eroded revenues from what was one of the largest customer segments for many large businesses. Bye bye better knapsack.

If we look at just one thing in an organization/knapsack, just one employee (i.e., calculator), what do we find? A few things:

(1)    The organization tosses that employee about much like my knapsack did that calculator. The employee is not likely to land in any part of the organization for very long. Why? It won’t stop to take the time to figure out what to do with her.

(2)    While she is working on the project of the day/month, the organization will burn through her. She will be over- and mis-utilized because the org can’t find the resources it needs to get the job done; instead, it will use what it has handy. As the org continues to lay people off, it will find that it has fewer and fewer people with the talent to get that job done. In that case, the org continues to task that calculator with lots of stuff she can do, lots of stuff she can’t really do, and lots of stuff there’s no way she can do. It will all wear her down, even beat her down. But the org will continue to do it. Why? All in the name of getting the job done, quarter by quarter. (And, yes, a candle CAN burn at both ends for quite a long time as this video clip demonstrates).

(3)    Eventually, the employee will slip through the cracks and get lost. Best-case scenario, she is tasked poorly. Worst-case, she gets canned before she has a chance to (continue to) demonstrate value.

What happens to the employee in this picture? We’ve already talked a bit about that in previous posts about employee engagement. When we’re lost, we lack purpose. When we lack purpose, when we have no meaningful objective within an organization, when those objectives keep shifting, we become sick.

But what happens DURING the selective abuse? What happens when someone keeps ‘punching our keys?’ What happens when the company keeps wanting more and more from us—more and more of our time, more and more of our life? What happens when companies try to ramp up productivity by spreading more work around fewer employees who may or may not have the skills necessary to handle all that work? And just how do those employees suddenly find the physical bandwidth to handle that work? How do they defy space and time?

Stay tuned… Coming soon to a blog near you…

But in the meantime, questions of the day: Is this you? Are you the calculator? Have you been burned out? Have you seen any of this happen to friends?

Thanks for reading!

-Mike Raven

The Matrix series, yes the WHOLE series, is probably my favorite trilogy but I never understood one of the Oracle’s key lines until I began thinking about my own health and surviving the workplace. For those of you who don’t know, the Oracle is an Obi-Wan-like character who helps the protagonist, Neo, understand how to save the remaining humans on a post-apocalyptic Earth.

Turning to Neo, she says, “You didn’t come here to make a choice. You’ve already made it. You’re here to try to understand why you made it.” Take a look at roughly the 2-minute mark of the following Youtube video:

I thought of this line when I read the following quotation from a hot-off-the-presses academic article that’s sweeping the news wires today:

“I am 45. I have always made sure my daughters go to the doctor but didn’t make time to get a doctor for myself. I’ve been too busy working and providing for my family. I wasn’t feeling well for a couple of months and finally let my daughter take me to the emergency room. They prescribed medication for hypertension, diabetes, and cholesterol but didn’t get me an appointment to follow up with a doctor. Mrs. Byrd did. She got me my own doctor within a week. I feel that I was treated well and will work with the doctor and do what it takes to get my blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol under control. I want to be there for my children for a very long time.” (Victor et al., 2010, eFigure 3. Role Model Story)

No, I’m not the guy who said all that but I could have been. Despite the fact that I’m 40, white, and don’t hit a barber shop in Dallas County, Texas every 3-4 weeks, I could well have had much in common with the man whose story became one of 84 such “model stories.”

A barber cutting hair: potential health intervention? (Image: Wikimedia)

Trained by researchers as part of an experiment, barbers told these stories to black men as the barbers gave them not only a haircut but checked their blood pressure and other vitals (Victor et al., 2010). As the men returned to the shops every couple of weeks, the barbers monitored them, encouraged them to see their doctors (and even paired them up with doctors if they didn’t know whom to turn to), and continued to tell them stories about successful interventions.

Guess what happened?

Yep, these men got the help they needed and their blood pressure came down. In fact, even men who received only pamphlets rather than story-telling and more direct barber-intervention (though the men still received blood pressure testing and monitoring when they went for their haircuts), saw improvement.

So, what worked? Was it the regularity of the intervention? Was it the fact that the barbers literally held their hands in some cases? Was it the haircut?

I began this post by noting that I am probably more like than unlike the experiment’s participants. I have often buried myself in my work, cited family sacrifices as a plausible waiver of all rights to health, and comforted myself (sometimes semi-consciously) that if anything really went wrong with my health, I could always get the help I needed.  There have been times when I got help but didn’t follow up, figuring again, work work work, got to work.

And there were even times when I resolved to do something about my health. Of course, I didn’t follow up on those either, letting my strongest of attempts to get myself in shape die on the vine. But that was okay, too. After all, got to work, work, work because God knows, the work is most important and the company will certainly take care of all of us. (Do I have to use some sort of icon to illustrate the sarcasm?)

But then I started realizing something—what I call the Quantum Paradox of Health and Longevity.

Like the study’s participants, I began to see the possibility of something better—i.e., by attending to my health, I could be there for my family. I had to admit I have a choice: I can be better.

BUT—and this is a big one—I DON’T have a choice. What’s the trajectory of bad behavior? Where does it end?  An ER would probably be a best-case scenario given some of the possibilities. Do I want to end up unable to take care of my family?

"Hey, did you hear what happened to Mike? Okay, on to the next topic..." (Image: Wikimedia)

If I keel over from a heart attack, will the company I work for say, “Well, he worked really hard for us. It’s up to us to jump right in there and make sure we provide for his wife and kids?” At best, I’d be a 3-minute highlight of a team meeting, “Hey, did you hear what happened to Mike?” after which, my colleagues would review their agenda and lament how difficult it is to fill out the new self-assessment form.

So, it’s a paradox. I can eat, couch, and work myself to death, failing my family and ultimately myself, or do something about it. Is there really a choice?

So, here’s why I think this study worked—and please, let me know what YOU think. This study worked because for the first time, participants came face-to-face with the reality of the paradox. They couldn’t hide behind the delusions. They couldn’t pretend that they had no choice and they couldn’t pretend that they did. They had to find a way to get better because the alternatives were unthinkable.

In short, they had to reject the very notion of a choice, at the same time making a very deliberate one: they had to choose to do the only thing that would save their families and themselves.

Put another way, they’d already made their choice; they just had to understand WHY they’d made it.

What choices have you never already made? How did you come to understand them?

Looking forward to your thoughts!

-Mike Raven

 

 

References

Victor, R.G., Ravenell, J.E., Freeman, A., Leonard, D., Bhat, D.G., et al. (2010). Effectivess of a barber-based intervention for improving hypertension control in black men. Archives of Internal Medicine, 170(18), doi: 10.1001

In all his hand-to-hand matches with stealth government agents and terrorists in which he suffered minor knife slits across his limbs, did 24’s Jack Bauer ever hit the ER for an X-ray and stitches? In all their encounters with the Smoke Monster, or run-ins with the ‘Others’ across sideway-, forward-, and back-flashes, did the Lost castaways ever have to pause to tend to a simple but deep gash that wouldn’t stop bleeding?

Of course not but in my own little reality show, things work a little differently. In my own show, I can’t carry a bottle of Perrier up a flight of stairs without the thing falling through a paper-thin Stop & Shop bag (yes, Stop & Shop, you’re on notice), crashing to the ground, and propelling an arrowhead-like piece of glass upward into my left calf.  Now this didn’t actually hurt—much, anyway.  And it didn’t appear to be bleeding profusely—much, anyway. But it was hurting and bleeding and the problem was that it wouldn’t stop. So, off to the ER on a Friday night where all I could think about was that now I’d have to miss my evening run and worse yet, might have to miss a few more.

I just wanted to run. Image: Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As the doc stitched it up, I asked if I’d still be able to run and he replied, “Well, I could tell you not to but you’re a runner. You’re gonna do it, anyway. So, I’ll throw some tape on and try to keep it stable for you. If the stitches dislodge, at least you’ve gotten a run in so no harm done, right?”

I wanted to hug this guy. “Right!” I affirmed.

There you have it: Engagement in its purest form.  All I cared about was making that next run.  And why was I so engaged? Put another way, why don’t I have the same passion for my work?

In my last post, I talked about how real employee engagement is about putting an employee to work on meaningful projects with meaningful outcomes for/with meaningful people that ultimately make a difference both for the organization and for that employee personally. What I implied but did not nearly emphasize enough in that mix is just how critical it is for employees to have a fighting chance to be successful at what they’re doing.

Let’s call this ‘Success Potential.’ If Success Potential is high, then employees become invested in what they do: they know they can get things done and that what they do will be valued. In such situations, employees are wholly and passionately engaged.

If Success Potential is low, if employees think they’re set up to fail, that what they’re working on may or may not be important but cannot or should not be accomplished given the organization’s (sometimes changing) priorities, we end up with a lack of engagement, even disenfranchisement.

Now, it’s true that some low Success Potential situations look high (e.g., for you Mad Men fans out there, remember when Joan is given a promotion in title only? Does she really have what she needs to be successful? Has the organization equipped her with the mindset?) and some high Success Potential situations look low (e.g., for your Project Runway fans, did you really think Michael Costello would go as far as he did; apparently, good designers DON’T need a ruler), but there’s no question about it: Passion, innovativeness, and yes, engagement—all those lovely buzzyworthy words business people throw about—are all tied directly to whether we think we can be successful at what we’re doing and make a difference.

I know I can be successful when I jump on the treadmill, when I flow through my Tai Chi form daily, and when I put good things into my body.  I look better, I feel better, and even better than all those betters, is that I am getting better and better every week.  Success Potential is high, very high, and I build on it every chance I get.

On the other hand, there’s my job with its odd, cold, mutable panorama of things in favor, where, returning to the Project Runway motif, one day you’re in and one day you’re out.  Certainly it’s hard to become engaged when I can’t jump into a project with the same outlook for success that I have when I jump on a treadmill.

So, 3 tips of the day (Tips #63-65):

  1. In the workplace, find stuff at which you can be successful. While this sounds like a ‘no duh,’ it’s anything but. Notice that I didn’t recommend attaching yourself to the boss you think will be the next CEO or looking out for the next big flavor-of-the-month project. My recommendation is actually a little more prosaic: Just look for the thing that you can do well, no matter how small, and which will likely hold its value at least through the next 6 months.
  2. Find personal sources of engagement—life passions, if you will. Within and beyond the workplace, within and throughout your life, find and do stuff at which you can be successful and that you’ll value over time. Good exercise and nutrition are great examples. Do these with gusto and look for other things, too. Engage in all these things relentlessly. Protect them relentlessly from the work-related things that want to diminish or poison them.
  3. Don’t sweat Tip #1. If you can’t find something to be engaged in at work, keep trying or find a different place to work. While you’re doing either or both of those things, always stay focused on your truest sources of engagement: all the life passions you’ll find in Tip #2.

With our focus where it should be—on finding true, personal sources of engagement, let me turn it over to you: What else are you good at the moment you begin doing it? What else can you be successful at as you continue to do it? What else gives you the satisfaction of knowing that it’ll be there to welcome you back, that it will grow with you, and that it will help you grow?

Looking forward to sharing…

All the best,

Mike Raven

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