10 Ways to Listen to the Black Dog
Bob Sutton gave me permission to be self-critical. He didn’t intend to, but, I felt great about being hard on myself, after we hung up.
We were talking about his new book, “Scaling Up Excellence,” when he said, people who really excel are highly critical of themselves. It made me feel great, because I’m hyper-critical of myself.
Maximizing your talent includes constant dissatisfaction.
Dissatisfaction is essential to growth, change, and excellence. Exceptional organizations are filled with people who are always dissatisfied.
Who versus what:
Separate dissatisfaction with performance, results, or achievement from who you are. Improving performance expresses the belief that you are worth improving.
My black dog:
After presentations, I mercilessly examine everything that went down.
- You spoke too quickly there.
- You lowered your eyes during that point. Keep your head up.
- Give more details on the rusty Volkswagen story next time.
- You spoke mostly to the right side of the audience.
- And on it goes…
I suppose I should limit myself to saying, “Keep your eyes up,” rather than, “YOU lowered your eyes.” It feels less personal. But, there I go being self-critical about how I am self-critical.
Focus the black dog on behaviors, processes, and results.
- Give up on perfectionism.
- Make it better.
- Maintain a “next time,” orientation.
- Believe you have more in you.
- Find mentors who excel in ways you want to excel.
- Do what your best self longs to do.
- Let go of the past, as long as you’re striving to improve the future.
- Never make excuses. Accept your mistakes but don’t affirm them.
- Compare up. You can always find someone who is worse at something than you are. Don’t console yourself with mediocrity.
- Surround yourself with people who acknowledge your progress and challenge you to be better.
Here’s part of my conversation with Bob Sutton. It focuses on listening to the black dog from an organizational point of view. Don’t miss his comments toward the end on the strength based movement (4:05)
How do you listen to the black dog?
Thank you, Dan, for another excellent post. I, too, am self-critical because I am constantly striving to be better. My favorite from above is #3: Maintain a “next time” orientation. I think this is important because it reflects hope and an attitude of trying again. As it pertains to my profession (calling), I believe we can’t quit on kids. This orientation keeps us persistent in continually giving our best to students and looking for more and better ways to reach out and help students.
Thanks Jennifer. Glad to have another self-critical person as a reader. People who grow their skills must first see where they need to grow. The term growth suggests we aren’t there yet. Best for the journey.
Dan, you probably have many self-critical readers; I being one of them! I am always more critical of myself than others are – it keeps me learning and growing.
Great stuff Dan, we all have ANTS. Automatic Negative Thoughts.
I have learned how to work on changing those to ENTS. Effective New Thoughts.
Anyone want help with this just let me know. I will fix you right up.
I put the ants there so I can replace them.
Another thing I do is train myself to live as close to in the moment as I am able. When I get off course with resensing I forgive myself and gently embrace the moment.
I also ask for my Higher Power to make his-her will clearly apparent cause he/she knows who he/she is dealing with!!!
I try to live each day as if it is my last and ponder THE THREE QUESTIONS each night before sleep.
Today did I
Yeah that’s the ticket. Making copies!!
Last I highly recommend reading The God Memorandum 100 nights in a two just like Simon Potter says to. I am the only person I know who did that 100 consecutive nights’
Promise that will shine the light on those ANTS let me tell ya!!!
Thanks Scott. We sure can’t underestimate the value of what we say to ourselves. For me, it shifting from “You suck” to “That didn’t work, make it better next time.”
Well dysfunctional religion has set many with a core belief of original sin. Ridiculous of course but since passed down by generations accepted. Such a pity because it is hogwash.
Go to a maternity ward and marvel at the perfection God has created.
Then take it a step farther, if you are flawed, God made a mistake.
Rubbish, it is just a pity that untrue thought got planted in do many so early on.
Try now to help people see how absurd it is and they will fight you tooth and nail to keep it.
That is a tough ANT right there, the good news it it ain’t true and sanity over time will win out.
When God made each of us he did something wonderful and spectacular. We all knew this till we started hearing otherwise from others who heard otherwise and round and round we go!
Cool though, the merry go round can stop at any point and sanity can prevail!! Lol
When we can wipe untrue statements out and start new, then we can set core beliefs and when squeezed great stuff comes out, not stuff like “I suck”.
All depends on what we tell ourselves over and over. We are what we think and we can choose what we think!!!
This one felt like it was written for me… I’ve been travelling around the country giving “kickoff” speeches all month. After each one I tell myself all the things I could have done better. The upside…. each time gets better 😉
Bingo!! Perhaps, rather than saying, “Don’t be hard on yourself,” we should say, “Be hard on your performance.”
I literally LOL-Ed at this line: “I suppose I should limit myself to saying, “Keep your eyes up,” rather than, “YOU lowered your eyes.” It feels less personal. But, there I go being self-critical about how I am self-critical.”
I agree, this gives me comfort. I’m getting better each day at letting go of perfection. I just can’t be too hard on myself for not being perfect at letting go of perfection 🙂
Thanks James. Our frailties are funny, if we’ll laugh at ourselves. 🙂 Good luck with that perfectionism thing. Cheers
I really enjoy reading your posts as I find that they both affirm that I am a good leader (you make points that are part of my makeup) and that I can grow and learn more (you touch on areas where I can change). I always look back on performance and pick out the areas I could have done better; even the smallest turn of the head or comment.
I have always called myself a pessimistic optimist. I look for the positive, plan for adversity.
I think I have the biggest problem with number 7 (letting go of the past) and number 10 (surrounding myself with people who challenge me to be better). It seems that I surround myself with people who think I’m “the best” and “don’t need improvement,” and I know that is not true. Thank you for another insightful post.
(I want to hear the rusty Volkswagen story.)
You keep writing Rick and I’ll keep learning. As always, “Thanks”
Thanks pmaddams. Glad you brought up the pessioptimist topic. All of one never works. I think Suttons nails it when he says too much optimism and you don’t anticipate problems. Too much pessimism and you can’t get going. (or something like that)
Glad to be on the journey with you.
Dan, this is a great discussion on the distinction between seeking perfection versus excellence and betterment, and why. Dissatisfaction can be a source of trouble as well as progress, as you say. We all want to be the best we can, contribute the most we can, and enjoy all the personal and professional fulfillment we can.
What I’m going to say next is going to freak you and your readers out: I truly believe leaders ought to “lighten up” a bit on themselves—and instead of constant self-critique—allow others to simply enjoy them—who they are…faults, imperfections and all.
In my limited experience, the great tragedy of leader and average person alike is the tendency to spend our whole lives perfecting our faults. For most of us, it takes all our lives to understand it’s not necessary to understand everything. We can’t be happy if we continue to search for what happiness is. And, we can’t live if we’re always looking for the meaning and exactness of our life, living, being, and doing. It’s like our professional quest for certainty blocks our personal journey of joy.
We are never what we ought to be–until we are doing what we ought to be doing. If we are that, we are doing well. And if we are doing good, we will do well.
Thanks Rick. One of the things that fascinated me about Suttons comments is the contrast with the strength based approach. (Which I adhere to) Focus on your strengths. Fix weaknesses that roadblock your strengths is one approach.
There’s so much to be said for a positive attitude and lightening up. Glad you jumped in today.
I find that when I DON’T take performance personally, I can improve my performance with joy. It’s easier to solicit feedback and explore better ways to do things. We aren’t what we do. But what we do expresses who we are.
Wow, Dan. Kaboom back to YOU: “We aren’t what we do, but what we do expresses WHO we are!” That’s something we can (and should) focus on without a lot of angst. Damn your mind is good…and FUN! Thank you.
Ricks rite that is good Dan…….
I’m really glad that this balancing perspective
was put forward. I think there is a need for
great caution in using Sutton’s approach.
The human brain is biologically constructed
to prioritise any threats/dissatisfaction.
Whilst short-term, this helps us ‘escape the
tiger’, as a medium to longer term work practice,
focusing on it risks aggression, avoidance, and paralysis
(the ‘fight or flight’ of the psyche).
‘The black dog’ was a description for depression
used by Abraham Lincoln in his letters. Australia
has a ‘Black Dog Institute’ that researches
depressive illness. There comes a point where
the feedback of mentors is a much healthier
dialogue for development, than a conversation
It is far too easy to use self-critique in unskillful
ways. Your work exists for the world outside yourself. Why
not get your raw feedback from there too???
Sutton’s approach as-is seems unsustainable
and unhealthy in the long-term.
Good morning Dan;
I can certainly relate to your natural tendency to ‘critic yourself’. When I began giving presentations some years ago on The Power of Positive Leadership, (Character-Based I might add), my presentation was not as polished as it is today. Video recording the presentation revealed areas that needed tweaked, some material was deleted, new material took it’s place. Dan I sense you have a great deal more experience presenting publicly than I do. I have been a Staff trainer for over 18 years. My advice to those speaking or teaching large groups of people for the first time, or are relatively new to the experience, allow me to share this one small tip. When you are in the midst of your presentation/class, and you realize you’ve skipped something, or simply did not phrase something as well as you’d have liked. Don’t allow this very small speed bump to cause you to veer off course. ‘Remember’, chances are you are the foremost authority regarding the topic in question. Although ‘you’ recognize a mistake or a missed opportunity, the group is most likely unaware. At this point I go into what I call ‘Parrot Back Mode’, I simply review previously stated concepts ‘while adding’ material I missed or direction I feel requires additional clarification.
Interesting title today Dan. For me it’s not so much the ‘black dog’ tapping me on the shoulder,”it’s my conscience”. When the hair on the back of my neck stands up and starts talking,, “I LISTEN”…
Cheers my friend;
Thank you, SGT Steve, for reading and appreciating my comments. Your comments to some degree are similar: You don’t get all B-A-N-AN-A-S over a pebble in your road. You make an oversight in your presentations a stepping stone and keep-on-moving-on! Can you imagine if you focused or agonized over any or all of your imperfections? You would be B-A-N-A-N-A-S!
Continued professional enjoyment B2U, Steve.
Thanks SGT. Love the “Parrot Back Tip.” No need to make a big deal. Just add it later. As always, thanks for your insights.
I’ve always had a negative conation towards the label of dissatisfaction; however, you bring up a great point with needing to be dissatisfied to improve. There should be a clear distinction between a dissatisfied employee and a disengaged one.
Dan. Thanks, I think. I don’t want you being to hard on yourself! My reading of some of the recent research on mood — in concert with what I observe from skilled creatives such as IDEO’s David Kelley and Pixar’s Ed Catmull & Brad Bird — is that creatives tend to be what I call “happy worriers,” they are optimistic about how thing will turn out at the end, and often energize others by talking about how great it will be in the end, but they fret and worry, and are never quite satisfied with what they are doing right now, they are constantly thinking and pushing to make it better. I think it makes sense as you need the optimism to keep you going, but you also need the critical thinking and urge for constant improvement to do ever better work. Make sense?
Thanks Bob. I loved the expression, “happy worrier” in the book. Makes sense.
I’m also a huge fan of optimism. How can we move forward without it. Have a great weekend!