Episode 49

consistency as kindness

Creating structures is a kindness. Creating consistency is a kindness. If you can hold consistency sufficiently long, then people's brains settle into that consistency space. Where things take less conscious effort. And then other things have more space. And consistency doesn't take that much space in the brain. But obligation does. Obligation is an obstruction. Consistency is a kindness.

Recorded 11/8/2022.

Notes and full transcript here:



Hi, everyone, thanks for tuning in. I've been thinking about something that's hard for intensives, recently, and also for us to not have, which is consistency. I've been thinking about consistency and the ways in which consistent shapes and spaces and patterns and ways of being can create the space that we need to do the things we want to do. How consistency, when we are doing something we want to do, can sometimes be a hindrance, but consistency, doing something that just has to be done, can be a blessing.

So for example, I brush my teeth every day, I know a lot of intensives, and a lot of other people with various kinds of executive dysfunction, do not brush their teeth every day. It's hard for them. I have somehow managed to get toothbrushing all the way into, into the place where I don't think about it anymore. Where it, I don't feel that I'm doing it where I can't tell you for certain that I did it this morning, except that I can tell you for certain that I do it every morning. And getting it into that autopilot place means that it takes up such a negligible amount of space in my brain that I can do other things.

Doing things that are boring and seem necessary is such a heavy lift, and doing things that I'm interested in is so easy, most of the time. And when those two things get conflated, when I end up with something that feels like an obligation, but it's also something that at one point I wanted to do, that's where I run into the biggest trouble. So I do everything that I can, as I'm running my business, as I'm going through my day, to make sure that what I'm doing doesn't feel like an obligation.

For example, I often go for a walk in the morning, but just often. Not every morning, not at least three times a week, often. And if I go through a period where I don't go for a walk frequently, either because the weather isn't conducive, or my health isn't conducive, or something else. I try really hard not to have any 'shoulds' in my head about it. It's just like, oh, look, I didn't do that. And I'm noticing that I didn't do that. Because it has certain useful, helpful supportive qualities about it. And if I managed to have those useful, supportive, helpful qualities in my life, then everything else goes more smoothly.

So eventually, things start to get a little rocky and I notice that I'm not doing one of those maintenance things. But the key to the maintenance things is again, not to think about them, and not to make them an obligation. Both. If I don't brush my teeth one day, as long as it doesn't affect anyone else, no big deal. Who cares? It doesn't make me a worse person. It doesn't make me a bad person, it doesn't mean that I'm failing at life or at adulting. Or at existence, it just means that I did not brush my teeth.

And here we're into that thing of observation, interpretation and judgment. Right. So observation is ideally completely value-neutral. It is merely a description of the actual fact of the matter. If someone arrived after five o'clock, and you had an agreement that they would arrive at five o'clock, the observation statement about that is "this person arrived after five o'clock." That is true. The interpretation might be that they're late. We had an agreement. They showed up after the agreed-upon time, therefore they're late.

The reason, one of the reasons, that this is an interpretation is because it depends how late they were, right? How much after five o'clock, they showed up. If they showed up at three minutes after five, and they're from anywhere except New York City, they were still on time. In New York City, they were late. In California, they were early. So five o'clock. After five o'clock. Late is the interpretation. And then judgment would be "they were disrespectful." Judgment would be "they were lazy." Judgment would be "they're bad at adulting," right?

All of those things carry a value interpretation. It's interpretation, plus some kind of value, like being a good person or a bad person or respectful or disrespectful, all of that comes in that third category. Now, I'm not saying that that's always wrong information or that it's always irrelevant information. Sometimes it's not. But many times in order to get to judgment, we have to make up some of the details in order to know what to judge, right?

If somebody shows up at three minutes after five, because their childcare worker was late and they were being gracious about it. That's one thing. If somebody shows up at three minutes after five because they know it bothers you. That's another thing. If somebody shows up at three minutes after five because they simply do not have this same interpretation of time and lateness that you have, that's another thing. Right? So every one of those things, has a value judgment in our culture, right? Especially if you have different values.

Maybe you're from, like I am, the suburbs of New York City. And it takes some adjustment for you to realize that three minutes after five isn't considered late in most cultural spaces. And in fact, it might be considered rude. Because if you said five, you're supposed to give your host a buffer. So figuring out what of your perspective of the situation is interpretation, what of your perspective of the situation is judgment. And what of your perspective is simply the facts, like, it is now three minutes after five o'clock, and this person is not here. That's all true.

All of that is part of figuring out how you're going to give yourself and others the grace and the flexibility. So coming back to my original point, consistency can be a real gift. Because if you can get something all the way into the place where they don't have to think about it any more, you don't have to think about it any more, it just happens, then that opens up a lot of mental space for the things that you want to give mental space to.

But you don't want it to feel like an obligation, because then it drums up all this resistance, at least it does for me and a lot of other intensives. And honestly a lot of other people. And so finding that sweet spot, that balance between "this is an obligation," and "this is essentially a habit," is really helpful. And for me, that means holding the repetition lightly. Holding the repetition lightly.

So instead of chasing the perfection, instead of making a commitment to myself or to others that I'm going to show up at exactly nine o'clock every single morning and do XYZ; that I'm going to start my day at exactly nine o'clock in the morning, for example. I start my day gently. I plan to sit down and start to think or work or write around nine o'clock in the morning.

I'm up usually, between six and 7:30. What that means is sometimes I have a slower start. And sometimes I have a slightly more rapid start. But there's always buffer time between when I get up and when I sit down at my computer with relatively few exceptions. And sometimes I realize that sitting down at my computer is the wrong choice. And I'll take my microphone for a walk and make voice notes while I walk or make some art and let something that I'm thinking about simmer in the back of my head.

Sometimes it's not my computer at all, sometimes it's my whiteboard, right? But when I start my day- I tried to start my day at eight o'clock and tried to allow people to schedule as early as eight o'clock. And what I discovered was that that was not working for me. That was not the kind of flexibility I needed, it created too much of a sense of obligation. And that sense of obligation led to a sense of resentment, and I didn't like it. So instead, I changed my schedule, so I'm only available for fixed appointments from 10 o'clock onward.

And by doing that, I created this spaciousness, this flexibility in the beginning of my day. And that's one of the privileges of running my own business is that I can decide to do that. But it doesn't have to be. If you own a business, as many of you do, and you are setting structures and, and plans and so on with your employees. In most cases, not all cases, but in most cases, it is possible to give them that same kind of structural flexibility.

If you know you're a slow start person, when can you start working? When are your peak hours? And then as an employer, I have to ask, like, "can I have some of those peak hours?"

Because- I learned this from someone I lived with once who used to get up at five in the morning and write for four hours and then drive to work and be there by 10. And by doing that she gave herself the best part of her day. And that was a mind-blowing revelation for me. At the time I was in my late 20s. And I was working kind of my first standard corporate job, I'd had some other jobs with, you know, companies but I was really- this was the first time that I had like a little zippy badge that I that I got into the building with and a desk and a company-issued computer and things like that. And I kind of felt like I owed my employer the best part of my day. And it wasn't true.

I did not owe them the best part of my day I owed them a good enough part of my day. That blew my mind. So as employers, one of the things that we can do, is we can provide clear structure where structures is necessary or important, where structure is going to help us create ease, where structure is going to help us create flow, where structure is going to help other people do their jobs, right. It's not wrong to have structure and expectations and needs. That's why we hire people, because our business has needs.

And also, how do we create that kind of kind structure, that kind, spacious, structure that makes clear the obligations, makes clear the expectations, makes clear what the conditions of success are. Because so many times, especially intensives, but also a lot of other people, can end up feeling like they have to be anxious all the time about whether they're doing it right or they're succeeding, or they're doing enough. Because there aren't clear metrics for success. So making it clear that like, "if you meet these standards, if you meet these goals, then you are succeeding."

And sometimes it's not about goals. Sometimes it's about behaviors. If you do this, then you're succeeding. If you do this, then you're succeeding. And if your success does not lead to the outcome that I'm hoping for, that's on me, as the visionary, as the employer, as the person doing the delegation. That's on me to figure out what I need to ask for differently, how I need to ask for it differently. And that might involve your input, because you're in the soup, you might know things that I don't know about why it is or isn't doing what I want it to do.

But the important thing, the thing I want to really emphasize here, is that creating structures is a kindness, creating consistency is a kindness, that if you can hold that consistency sufficiently long, then what happens is, people's brains settle into that consistency space. And then other things have more space. And consistency doesn't take that much space in the brain. But obligation does.

Obligation is like literally like an elephant sitting in the middle of a nine foot by 10 foot space. And you can't do anything else if there's an elephant in the middle of a nine foot by 10 foot space. So obligation is an obstruction. But consistency is a kindness. And winding your way to the balance both for yourself as an intensive leader and for your employees and your company and your contractors and your clients is really important.

I'm going to wrap up with a story here because this is immediately relevant. I am launching a membership program for the Intensives Institute. I recognize that a lot of folks want to be connected to intensives work, identify as intensives, want to be in community with intensives, want to be connected with other intensives, enjoy spaces where intensiveness is normative. And also don't need a coaching package, don't need a consulting package right now. Like you want that, but there's nothing immediate to work on. It's not like you're hoping that you're going to do this particular thing in this particular way. And so you need some support around that.

It's not that you're trying to get your team working better together. And I know there are a lot of you out there because a lot of you are in my Facebook feed. A lot of you are in my Twitter feed. A lot of you are in my personal circles, a lot of you are people I have phone conversations with. And I wanted to create a space for us to be in connection. Without all that other stuff. Without the intense engagement, without the intense work. Because I think that's really important.

I think being in spaces where our behavior and our ways of thinking and our inspirations are normative is really helpful. And also I'm producing all these resources, and I want people to have a way to access them. So I'm creating this membership program. It's got two tiers, there's a basic tier, which is just like if you just want to hang around.

And then there's a leadership tier if you want more leadership development, support and resources and more opportunities to meet each other. And the leadership tier has four salons a year and the basic tier has one salon a year. And then there are a bunch of other perks and features. The leadership tier gets to list your business in our intensives business directory. I'm really excited about it. But I was hoping to launch it originally at the beginning of October, you will notice that it is not the beginning of October. As I am recording this, it is the beginning of November. And I'm hoping that it will be launched by the middle of November. But I haven't put a specific date on it.

I had a specific date. And then a lot of things happened and that was just not likely or reasonable. And I thought about trying to push myself and my assistant and everyone else around me in various ways. You know, kind of putting the pressure on all of the people that I interact with in my personal life and my professional life in order to launch "on time." And I decided that that was not useful.

I decided that a quote unquote "on time launch"- who generated that deadline? I did. What did it relate to? A little bit to the holiday season, a little bit to wanting to get up and running before the kind of chaos of the various holidays that come at the end of the year, but also, nothing. Like there was no real reason it had to be out. And so what I said to myself, to my assistant, to everyone around me was, I'm going to try to get this thing out by this date.

But if it doesn't get out by this date, I'm not going to ask us to kill ourselves, it doesn't make any sense. Instead, what I'm going to ask us to do is get this out as soon as possible, given the limitations. That also happened with the polished version of the class that I offered last winter. It's been a year since I offered that class. And for various reasons, the polishing didn't happen on the schedule I wanted it to. That could be inconsistency. But what it really is, is grace.

Am I still doing it? Yeah, I am. And I'm super excited for what it's turning out to be. And I'm really excited to be running it. When I do launch it, which I haven't done yet, I will be offering it with a six week like play-along kind of opportunity where people can come to an AMA discussion group once a week for six weeks after having worked through one of the courses in the package. And that's going to be great. It couldn't happen on the schedule it needed to happen because the person I had helping me produce the materials, wasn't able to do it on that schedule.

Things happened, their life didn't turn out the way they were expecting it to. So it's coming. And it's coming on a human schedule. That's true also, of the membership, it's coming on a human schedule, which means it is a couple months later than I wanted it to be it is at least a week later than I than I had originally hoped. But here we are. And I would rather be gracious, I would rather have that flexibility and still say like, yeah, and let's get this launched, let's make this a top priority. Let's get this out the door, let's make sure that people do have the opportunity to access intensive community. I think that's really important.

And no, there is no forum component. I keep saying that. Because I want to be clear, we're not going to be in a constant state of expectation of engagement. That's something that intensives can get sucked into. And it actually draws us away from our primary work. And we don't do it forever. We do it for a couple months, and we drift away. So we're not doing that.

Instead, we're doing live gatherings and a directory with a space for bios and an external directory for businesses if you're at the leadership level. So there are lots of ways to connect, but it's not going to drain you, it's not going to ask you to engage in one more forum, one more set of conversations all the time. I think that's not a realistic ask. And I don't think it's actually supportive.

But in order to figure that out, in order to figure out what needed to happen, I've had this membership in the back of my head since I launched my company. Years ago. And since I wrote my book. Years ago. And since- I've been thinking about it as an institute, that's why I called it the Intensives Institute and not something else, because I really do think of it as an institute, as a place to do educational stuff, and connection stuff and a home base where we can offer the kinds of trainings that are useful to intensives, both about intensiveness and about things that are related to intensive leadership and intensive organization function.

In order to figure that out, I had to put it on a human scale, I had to not look at people who, you know, started a business and opened a thing and had a membership up and running in like six weeks or 10 weeks or whatever. I had to make the space for it to be what it needed to be and to develop at the pace it needed to develop. And here we are. And I'm still doing that.

There is incredible health in doing that. It's hard for us intensives because it means that we have to treat a big project like a series of small projects, so that we don't lose interest in it. So that it doesn't become an obligation. So it doesn't become a weight. We have to find ways to keep ourselves excited, keep our people excited, keep making it novel and new and still have them all applied to the same endpoint.

All of that is part of the challenge of intensive leadership, especially if you have intensives working for you. How do we keep this novel and interesting and moving forward and dynamic and also keep it human? And also give ourselves consistency, where consistency is a kindness but not obligation. Consistency and as little obligation as possible. Consistency is a kindness. Where can consistency support you? Thanks for tuning in. I'll talk to you soon.

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Leela Sinha