The recession is like a plane journey
When I lived in New Zealand, I flew a lot. Thirty-six hour journeys in the main. After a while, it was possible to get it down to a fine art. Everything was just where I needed it. I knew the oddities of the airports en route, and the vagaries of a chain of flights through countries with their own distinctive cultures.
I walked into an aircraft, put my hand-luggage overhead, and sat down with exactly what I needed – book, hard case to protect my glasses, pen and passport if I anticipated filling in forms before we touched down.
And then someone sat down next to me and started bobbing up-and-down. First, they had forgotten this. Then they had forgotten that! My heart would sink!
What can psychologists tell us about being cool, calm and collected?
Why is that some people cannot get their act together? Why are others cool, calm, collected, and seemingly in control of every thing going on around them?
Yesterday I listed three types of initiative described by Michael Frese of Giessen University.
Self-starters are quick to action and equally quick to figure out what works and what doesn’t. In an aircraft, they get their junk into an overhead locker quickly, clear the aisle, help other people, hold up no one, yet are comfortable and ready to go.
Proactive people think ahead. They have what they need in the outer pockets of their hand luggage. They are dressed for a wide range of cabin temperatures and take off a jacket or put on one without a fuss. They know that alcohol will worsen the cabin-induced dehydration and they claim all the water they can see.
Persistent people are amazingly flexible. They know that they are not in control and ‘read’ what is happening around them, less to join in, and more to help everyone else get settled. They know they can get back to enjoying a quiet and peaceful flight when every one else is settled.
Can we be self-starting, proactive and persistent all at once?
Of course, we would like to be! We all like to be in control, calm and dignified! But can we be prompt to act, yet planful? Can we be flexible, yet persistent?
The three styles of initiative are brought together with three key psychological concepts: goals, plans and feedback.
Goals are amazing. When we decide what we really want to do, we become self-starters. We jump into tasks and nothing can stop us. Oddly everything becomes very easy too – or as we say, ‘the universe conspires to help us’!
Plans allow us to anticipate the various ways something can pan out. So we learn to allow for other people’s needs and we budget a little time and energy to help them out.
Feedback tells us if we are on track. If we have a realistic mental model of what will unfold, we can say to ourselves – my long term goal is to have a restful flight and my short term goal is to help my neighours get settled. Then we can follow both plans simultaneously.
German and American psychology
The big difference between German and American psychology is the recognition of these three concepts. American psychologists talk a lot about goals and to a lesser degree about feedback. Germans place a lot more emphasis on plans.
We are able to make plans when we understand how the world works. Hence, education is important. So too is experience. So is a good attitude to errors. An error simply alerts us to the possibility that something needs to be understood.
For example, on several occasions as I stood exhausted and bleary-eyed in Australian passport queues, something went wrong with their computers and it took over an hour and a manager to sort it out. The third time it happened, I stepped round the counter and watched how they resolved the problem. To cut a long story short, it seemed that the clerk had entered the country code for my passport incorrectly. I could see that this would happen again. Thereafter, my passport proudly carried yellow stickies with the message “The code for xxxxx is yy!” Understanding the objective world and the priorities of others is so important to maintaining our own bearings.
When I understand the “noise and whip of the whirlwind”, I find it so much easier to deal with the “noise and whip”, or to use another metaphor, to give unto Ceasar. Dealing with distractions, interruptions and errors may take a little time, but I don’t muddle them up with a commentary on what I am doing. I deal with the distractions on their own terms, and register as feedback solely whether or not I am free to pursue my own goals!
When I am aware of what is going on around me and I have dealt with the odd things that come up, then at last I can act more like a self-starter – pursuing goals, doing what needs to be done immediately, being more mindful, and finding flow.
All three – goals, plans and feedback – work together. Sometimes I am on a learning curve. And I need to get through up that curve to arrive at a point where I am self-starting, proactive and persistent – or to anyone else – cool, calm and collected!
So what should I do about my disorganized neighbours?
Well, neigbours on long-distance flights, as in life, can be interesting or dull. They can genuinely require help, or just be the most feckless, disorganized wretches that it is possible to imagine.
It doesn’t matter which they are. They are. They simply ‘are’. We take them as we find them. I’ve found myself reading for hours to an 8 year old travelling alone and on another flight, moving seats to allow an engineer travelling from Melbourne to Rwanda to use my seat to sleep. I’ve shared a beer with a fireman from 9/11 and translated for seamen determined to drink the bar dry as they flew from Cape Town to Beijing.
They each had their goals, their plans based on their understanding of their world, and their judgement of the situation. They’ll settle soonest if they can explore the situation they find themselves in, learn what works, and balance up alternative plans. The sooner they can do that without distraction from me, the sooner they will settle.
And talking about the recession?
Like most people, I am exasperated by the mess made by the banks. I am not even sure why we continue to pay people who are manifestly not competent in the business they have chosen.
I am also looking forward to the point where more people around me are ‘up to speed’ on what is happening in the world of international finance. I’ll even be happy when more people around me are actively trying to find out what is happening.
I would like to see people setting positive goals. Too many goals seem to be persistent in the wrong way – hanging on to what we thought would happen – and no longer relevant to what is happening. As we learn about this new world, we must find goals that are attractive in spite or even because of the mess. We will still have to deal with the mess, but it won’t bother us half as much if we have our own goals on the horizon.
And then we will find ourselves more active – less inclined to groan when the alarm clock goes off.
The truth is achieving goals is simple – the universe really seems to help us. Deciding on our goals is the hard part.
Come with me!
So I’ve begun. Today, I flicked open my SEO notebook at the back and started jotting down key figures on the British economy as I found them in various articles.
How are you learning more about the financial system and the economy?