When a ship enters the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal, there's risk to both ship and lock. A few feet to port or starboard can make the difference between a safe passage and a dangerous collision with one of the lock walls. That's why the locks have guide walls, or fenders, that jut out from the lock entrance at about a 45-degree angle, roughly in the shape of a V.
These walls guide errant ships toward the lock, making sure that the ship is "in the groove." Scott Acone of the US Army Corps of Engineers explains that the structure "…ensures that the ships make it into the passage without a direct hit on the lock itself. They ensure a more glancing blow, which doesn't damage either the ship or the lock."
Our minds have "guide walls" too. When we've used a particular behavior frequently, we develop "grooves" that make it easy to find that behavior again without thinking. But there's a price — when we aren't thinking clearly, the only choices we can make are those that require no thinking. And the patterns we're most likely to find are those with the most effective guide walls.
we sometimes behave
like children. Why?Under stress, we tend to use behaviors that we learned long ago and that we've used a lot. And those behaviors tend not to be the ones we learned more recently, as mature, thinking adults. Instead, we find more easily the behaviors that we learned long ago, as children, when our choices were more limited. That's one reason why, under stress, we sometimes do behave like children.
Where do your guide walls take you? We're all unique. Some popular destinations are anger, helplessness, abusing others, wackiness, retreat, hero worship, medication, stuckness, and complexity. You probably know yours — maybe too well.
Here are some tips that can help you find the choices you'd like to make instead.
- Learn to notice stress
- Canal locks have much more protection than just guide walls. There are lights and buoys and other warnings that alert pilots to the approaches.
- Knowing that you're stressed is the first step to better choices. Learn what your own stress symptoms are, and practice noticing them.
- Slow down
- Canal pilots ease their ships into the locks very carefully. They need time to make course corrections.
- If you notice that you're stressed, slow down. Breathe. Give yourself time to make better choices.
- Accept the need for practice
- The guide walls at the Gatun Locks are massive, and took time and tremendous effort to build.
- Our guide walls aren't physical walls, but building them takes time, too. We build them by choosing consciously, and by observing our own progress.
Love the work but not the job? Bad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? This ebook looks at what we can do to get more out of life at work. It helps you get moving again! Read Go For It! Sometimes It's Easier If You Run, filled with tips and techniques for putting zing into your work life. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenGeeCmsWEYjDfyMdXner@ChacOHcReBhdsXBODxTfoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Games for Meetings: II
- We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized
games. Here's Part II of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
- Knowing Where You're Going
- Groups that can't even agree on what to do can often find themselves debating about how
to do it. Here are some simple things to remember to help you focus on defining the goal.
- It's a Wonderful Day!
- Most knowledge workers are problem solvers. We work towards goals. We anticipate problems as best we
can, and when problems appear, we solve them. But our focus on anticipating problems can become a problem
in itself — at work and in Life.
- Logically Illogical
- Discussions in meetings and in written media can get long and complex. When a chain of reasoning gets
long enough, we sometimes make fundamental errors of logic, especially when we're under time pressure.
Here are just a few.
- Action Item Avoidance
- In some teams, members feel so overloaded that they try to avoid any additional tasks. Here are some
of the most popular patterns of action item avoidance.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 20: Conceptual Mondegreens
- When we disagree about abstractions, such as a problem solution, or a competitor's strategy, the cause can often be misunderstanding the abstraction. That misunderstanding can be a conceptual mondegreen. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
- And on December 27: On Assigning Responsibility for Creating Trouble
- When we assign responsibility for troubles that bedevil us, we often make mistakes. We can be misled by language, stereotypes, and the assumptions we make about others. Available here and by RSS on December 27.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenTZSTjIxAZFDnfabQner@ChacCWyoPNtVwpYCbgdOoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applications
- When we talk, listen, send or read emails,
read or write memos, or when we leave or listen to voice mail messages, we're communicating person-to-person.
And whenever we communicate person-to-person, we risk being misunderstood, offending others, feeling
hurt, and being confused. There are so many ways for things to go wrong that we could never learn how
to fix all the problems. A more effective approach avoids problems altogether, or at least minimizes
their occurrence. In this very interactive program we'll explain — and show you how to use —
a model of inter-personal communications that can help you stay out of the ditch. We'll place particular
emphasis on a very tricky situation — expressing your personal power. In those moments of intense
involvement, when we're most likely to slip, you'll have a new tool to use to keep things constructive.
Read more about this program. Here's a date for this
- Embassy Suites by Hilton Jacksonville Baymeadows, 9300 Baymeadows
Road, Jacksonville, Florida, 32256, USA: January 15, 2018,
Monthly Meeting, Northeast Florida Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- Embassy Suites by Hilton Jacksonville Baymeadows, 9300 Baymeadows Road, Jacksonville, Florida, 32256, USA: January 15, 2018, Monthly Meeting, Northeast Florida Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
- Most of what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.