Why Is It So Hard to Live Up To Our Values?

I’ve known communication experts with dysfunctional relationships, professional speakers who decline events because they are horrified to go on stage, and time management gurus who are late to meetings. I’ve met renowned thought-leaders who fabricate some of their work to get published, and personal change advisors who are terrified of change.

Why is it so hard to live our values? Why is it we can consume so much new information and knowledge and yet do nothing new in our daily life? We watch TED talks about how the mere presence of a smartphone on the table between us detracts from the quality of our conversation. Over 80% of us know this, and yet we do it anyway.

We read studies on the importance of grit and perseverance, and yet we are quitting our jobs and hopping to new opportunities at record levels because we feel we aren’t making an “impact” quickly enough to satisfy our ego.

We are constantly reminded that multitasking is a myth and only leads to decreased work quality, slower learning, and decreased attention spans, and yet we have numerous email and message alerts active on our computers and devices.

We know we can accelerate our learning when we try new things at work, and yet we go along with idiotic ideas, hide our opinions, and mask our true identities, because we are scared of being fired, or are desperate to fit in.

We know that the quality of our sleep is directly related to the quality of our health and well-being, and yet we take our smartphones to bed, and even check them in the middle of the night. And we know that the first five minutes when we walk in the front door can set the tone for the entire evening, and yet often our first reaction is dismay at the mountain of dirty dishes in the sink. That dismay is a mood killer.

Excellence requires work, impact takes time, leadership presence requires being present, and meaningful relationships need kind conversations.

Make it easier on yourself. The expression “activation energy” was coined 150 years ago by a chemist. The term refers to the minimum amount of energy required to stimulate an interaction between available reactants.

In other words, we should minimize the amount of energy it takes to get us in motion, and remove all the hurdles to taking action that we can. If we want to start jogging more, we should lay our gear and our shoes by the bed before we go to sleep. If we want to become better public speakers, we need to block off a doable amount of time — perhaps thirty minutes each day — to actively write and rehearse our material. And if we truly want opinions and new ideas at our meetings, we should make our meetings psychologically safe for honesty.

When we make it easy to begin something, we lower the amount of energy it takes to get started. And if it takes less energy to get started, we are more likely to do it. The slow, intentional approach to learning something new, overcoming fear, and leading with confidence requires guided mastery toward self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is not self-esteem. Self-esteem is how good you feel about yourself. Self-efficacy is the strength of your belief in your own ability to complete the tasks you set out for yourself and reach your goals.

Make it easy on yourself. Start small.


SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Routledge) just released. You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
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