Tuesday, 14 May 2013

How to be Successful - Cultivate Calmness

I recently saw an old friend after a gap of several years.  It’s funny how you forget aspects of people’s personality when you haven’t seen them for a bit.  After only a few minutes, what came flooding back was his sense of calmness.  A quality I don’t always possess, I’m afraid, but one that is super-useful in business.

Why is it useful in business?  Simply because all sorts of things happen all the time – some good and some less good.  The person who can control their emotions and not let events throw them off course will be more successful.  Things happen to everyone – a cross neighbour, a child’s tantrum, or a nasty email from a colleague.  Unfortunately we have no control over other people’s behaviour.  We might try to alter their behaviour through discussion, persuasion and the like, but when all is said and done they are free agents to behave as they do. 

The key is not getting thrown off course, and not allowing external events and behaviours to upset you and your work. 

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying ignore input from other people.  That’s valuable additional perspective that we all need.  What I am saying is that emotional reactions and getting upset at things you can’t change isn’t helpful.  Trust me, I know, I’ve done my share of getting upset and it didn’t help.   

James Allen, the self-help author said, “The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.”

So much for being calm, but how do you do it?  Unless, like my friend, you are blessed with a calm nature, there are several things that can help:

  1. Understand that we can’t change other people, or their behaviour.  We can only change ourselves and our reactions to external events.  It’s self-evident, but so easy to forget in the heat of the moment.
  2. Look at things from the other person’s point of view.  What might it have looked like from their perspective?  Maybe they weren’t being malicious, but clumsy or thoughtless.  They are different.
  3. Practice letting go and not reacting when things happen.  Start with being calm to little things like bad driving or getting caught in the rain.  Then practice smiling or pausing when someone says something particularly stupid.  Like physical fitness, the more you do it, the stronger you get.

I need to take some of my own advice, and react less to little things.  The truth is that it’s often very difficult.  The payoff to being calmer, however, is significant and therefore worth a little practice.

But I’ll leave the last word to the old wag Oscar Wilde who once quipped “Nothing is so aggravating than calmness”.

Quite so, but he also said "It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating."


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