More success with composure
Have you ever dealt with the topic of introducing agile working methods in projects? Have you noticed that the success of such an introduction also depends on our thinking and our inner attitude? There are people who are worried that they will no longer be able to determine their working hours independently and on their own responsibility. Others find it difficult to achieve value-oriented goals, because in their organisations to date only performance- and profit-oriented goals such as speed, efficiency or profitability have applied. The change towards an open error culture is also not easy for everyone. Changes in working methods often demand more flexibility from each individual. Flexibility, however, means that many aspects can no longer be easily planned and controlled. This can trigger uncertainties, helplessness and even fears. Here an active change of the mindset can help, with which we remain confident despite uncertainty and do not immediately fall back into old behaviour patterns when difficulties arise. Our feelings and our often subconscious habits play a very important role.
In the following I would like to introduce you to three important success factors which are extremely useful for every project manager and every project employee to get through the daily routine of the project in a calm, focused and confident manner despite insecurity and uncertainty.
Are you sometimes tense, stressed, annoyed or angry? Our current work culture offers most people little suitable conditions to be mindful. Everyone around us is busy and almost always active. What would it look like if, at such a time, you simply took the time to pause, to feel inside yourself and to find out how you are doing right now? It seems absurd to us, because since our childhood and later in professional life, we have learned that only by delivering performance and fulfilling expectations can we gain recognition and progress. Through my work and my own experiences I have gained the conviction: If we want to shape our work in the long term with enthusiasm, commitment and joy, then it is important that we find out how things really work. My tip: Take a day in the coming week and pause regularly every two to three hours on that day. Feel inside yourself: What thoughts are on your mind? What mood are you in? How would you describe the characterising feeling you have right now? How does your current state affect your work? You may be surprised at what you feel. Here are some examples of our clients:
- I see how my own expectations of completing the report by the deadline put me under pressure. I am tense and angry.
- I feel like I’m looking at my workplace from the outside and I realise how hectic and unfocused I am right now.
- I become aware of what I have already achieved on this day and I automatically become calmer and more satisfied.
Mindfulness means to be present and with attention in the respective situation, in the present – not in the future and not in the past. Only in the present can you perceive what is happening, recognise your possibilities and decide on a suitable action. When you arrive at home depleted after an exhausting day at work, all these opportunities are over. If you notice directly in such a situation that you are frustrated, tense or angry, then simply do a little breathing exercise that will also help you with your inner calmness. Or be conscious of the fact that you are doing just that well.
Have you ever tried to make a good decision in a very tense, hectic situation? Can you be creative under time pressure and, for example, work on a concept? If we are honest, it doesn’t really work well. It’s exhausting and often we can’t think of anything new. Inner serenity is so important because it is precisely in this state that we have our maximum mental capacities. Scientists have discovered that in stressful situations – including situations where we are tense and feel under pressure – all our energy is transferred to the body, more precisely to fight, curse or die. We release stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which mobilise us in the short term but tend to harm us in the medium to long term. That would be like sprinting all day long. And that can’t go well.
The second effect, which is more important for work, is that the connection to your thinking brain part, the neocortex, is limited. In a stress situation you don’t have unlimited energy at your disposal and the energy you have is just needed to cope with the stress situation and restore your confidence in action. The thinking function is rather unimportant at this moment. In concrete terms, this means: only in a calm, balanced state do you have your maximum mental powers. You are focused, do not easily allow yourself to be distracted or put under pressure by your own or others’ expectations and demands.
My tip: If you want to change quickly to a calm, relaxed state, then concentrate on your breathing. A deep and even breathing has a balancing and calming effect on our autonomous nervous system – scientists have also discovered this. Just pay attention to your breathing and focus your attention on it for only two to three minutes – the effect is impressive. My clients are always very surprised at how effective such a simple exercise can be. Their own perception of the problem quickly breaks away and new possibilities for action open up. However, you need some routine – breathing once a week sometime, if you happen to think about it, does not change anything about your mindset.
Supremacy and self-confidence
How quickly do you let the opinions of others get you upset? Do you find yourself in an unproductive phase because you wonder what you could have done differently or better? Such loops and doubts have accompanied my everyday project life in the past: New IT systems are introduced, agile ways of working are propagated, new forms of cooperation are tried out and it was clear to my mind that this cannot work without trying out, making mistakes and the resulting findings. Nevertheless, I often sat there and thought afterwards whether I could not have prepared and planned it better. Or whether it would have been smoother if I or others had been more attentive and thought of this or that. Of course there are such phases in preparation for a project: Have I really thought of everything? Have I included everyone? With such inner dialogues you can spend hours, even whole days and nights. And the worst thing is, they create a negative, oppressive mood of doubt, worry, sometimes anger and annoyance. They also undermine one’s self-esteem. They eat our energy and for many it is difficult to break out of such a vicious circle. To ensure that our self-confidence does not suffer permanently, it is important to get out of these unproductive inner dialogues of doubts, demands and evaluations. Immediately. Directly when you notice such an inner dialogue. The two success factors mindfulness and composure help you with the described tips. But you can go one step further and use the energy of positive, strengthening things by simply changing your perspective:
- Focus your perception on the things that you and the team have succeeded in doing well. Consciously feel the associated feelings such as satisfaction, joy and pride.
- Focus your attention on the insights you and the team have gained through activities, mistakes or trying out new ways.
It is particularly important to bring feeling and reason into harmony. My tip for this is: write down three things every week that you have succeeded in doing well. If you do this over a period of four to six weeks, focus your attention automatically on the things that work, rather than those that don’t. You will realize how much you learn from and grow from your mistakes and experiences. You let go of old performance thinking and become more self-confident in trying out new behaviors.
For project managers it makes sense not only to apply new methods, but also to work actively on their inner attitude. Successful project work requires a self-confident inner attitude. This is also useful for the future application of agile methods and approaches. We should be more mindful and conscious with our feelings and thoughts, otherwise we fall back again and again into our inappropriate, subconscious behavior patterns. This is exhausting, costs time, nerves and a lot of energy. With the three inner success factors mentioned above, you create a new, constructive mindset. For this you need time and perseverance. But it is worth it, because our attitude of mind influences all our actions. Regular use will quickly lead to success. Just try it for yourself.
Martina Baehr is a work and organisational psychologist and owner of Project Management plus - with the right mindset for project success. As a project supervisor and mindset coach, she supports her customers in building their inner strength. So that they act from their full strength and bring their projects to success in a relaxed manner. In her German mindset blog she writes about new thinking, emotional intelligence, intuition and value-adding cooperation.
Martina Baehr has worked in various medium-sized companies as a project manager and department head for internal process and systems consulting, and has more than 15 years of experience in managing large reorganisation and IT projects.