If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you’re probably pretty good at handling most of what life throws at you. Most of the time you can figure it out, make it happen, and get the job done. What about those times when you’re not so motivated? You know, you’re blindsided by a challenging event that you normally would handle with ease, but it occurs on a day when you just don’t have it. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always give us time to warm up, ease into the task, and take it on. Sometimes you just have to suit up quickly and get into it. How can we be ready for situations like these?
My first career was an education as a high school social studies teacher. I taught a number of courses, one of my favorites being United States History. US history is filled with examples of the American people taking on challenges successfully with little preparation. One of the best examples is the quick mobilization and successful conclusion to our nation’s involvement in World War I. The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. The war ended on November 11, 1918, despite the fact that the United States was ill prepared to take part in a major conflict on another continent. The positive attitude and willingness of the American military will serve as our example.
During World War I the armed forces of the United States were known as the American Expeditionary Force, or the AEF. President Woodrow Wilson gave command of the AEF to Major General John J. Pershing, a lantern jawed, 5’10,” 170 pound bundle of energy and can do attitude. It was Pershing’s job to take a ragtag group of farm boys and city slickers and whip them into fighting shape as soon as possible. Pershing’s nickname was “Black Jack Pershing,” which ought to give you an idea about his motivation. Within seven months the AEF had arrived in Europe and the tide turned, ultimately leading to victory for the Allied side.
I am a big believer in simple solutions for my coaching and psychotherapy clients. I like to use acronyms that are easily remembered to help initiate behavioral changes in real-time. When facing a task that requires a can do attitude, particularly if your attitude and energy level is a little bit on the low side, remembering the acronym AEF can help. Here is how:
A = Attitude. The first step is to check your attitude. Ask yourself, “What’s my attitude?” Getting clear on how you are thinking goes a long way toward determining whether or not you will be successful. Proper questioning allows you to step away from the emotional reactivity that can be counterproductive and defeating, and switching to a more positive, realistic way of viewing the situation.
Label your attitude with a number. “On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident am I that I can succeed at this? What would I have to think, do, or be in order to make my attitude a 10?”
Get clear on what you are feeling. Are you angry, or are your feelings hurt? Are you overwhelmed, or do you need to break down the challenge into manageable chunks that you digest one task at a time? This isn’t merely the power of positive thinking that we’re talking about here, it’s about breaking things down and performing at an optimal level. Checking your attitude can allow you to succeed when you otherwise may needlessly fail.
E = Energy. What is your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy with regard to this task? Marshaling all your energy on these four levels can create and indomitable force at times. Getting all your energy going in the same direction can allow you to do unbelievable things. We’ve all heard stories such as the 110 pound mother lifting the automobile to rescue her child, or the 78-year-old man who successfully defended himself from being mugged, and other such stories. These things are possible when these four types of energy are aligned.
I often think of the Vince Lombardi quote, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all,” when energy needs to be rallied. Checking your energy and getting it going in the right direction is vital.
F = Focus. What am I focusing on? What am I thinking about, visualizing, and dwelling on? Am I focusing on how I can’t do it, or am I focusing on how I can? The reality of our thoughts is that we tend to get what we focus on. Our brains are wired to recognize patterns. This reality allows us to make sense of our environment. We usually get the result that we are focusing on.
A useful saying in this situation is, “Success flows were focus goes.” What you attend to, particularly when challenged, is usually where you are going to end up.
Remembering the acronym AEF, and the story of the United States military during the First World War can give some lessons that are useful outside of the classroom. Learn to lead your own forces.
“A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary, an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops.”- General John J. Pershing
As you were!
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