Friday, December 28, 2012

Shark Survival Tips

Many years ago when I was a marketing lecturer at San Francisco State University I was asked a very important question by my mentor professor. The question was, "Are you a shark or a guppy?" I had no idea what she was asking me and looked at her rather skeptical as if she had lost her mind. I stared at her with a blank look and she repeated the question as if I had not heard her, but this time she said it even louder. Once she interpreted my look of a deer in the headlights appearance, she grabbed me by my collar and pulled me into her office to start the valuable lesson about fish.

Not ever thinking about fish before I wasn't sure how to answer her question.  How would you answer that question?  Are you a guppy, gold fish, tiger fish, piranha or a shark? Well, she informed me that I was definitely a gold fish trying to become a guppy. You may ask why was I a guppy.  Here is why and see if this relates to you. As a guppy I was nice, sweet, held on to my childhood values, hated planning games and politics and was unaware of vicious people around me. Sounds familiar? At the time I was working at a major San Francisco radio station where the management was simply atrocious and ruthless. I would go to her begging for advice often as she was a great celebrity from the broadcast industry who totally understood the inner-workings of station management.

Have you ever been in a management or staff meeting where you often feel side swiped by others?  Well, I was many, many times until Dr. Lowe started to mentor and train me for combat which saved me in my work years later in Washington, DC too. As if you didn't discern, I was a big guppy, naive, and totally intimidated.

You may ask what were the tell-a-tale signs that I needed to work on ASAP?  Well here they are:
  • Lack of self confidence
  • Fear of public speaking
  • Lack of experience dealing with business colleagues
  • Lack of appropriate business style clothing
  • Understanding how to separate personal values from business values
Lack of Self Confidence:

This took a lot of work for me to get over childhood tapes of people telling me that I would never be successful. As a high school senior, my school counselor told me to not even consider trying to attend college because my grades simply weren't competitive and I should select a vocational school and become a mechanic or nurse's aid in a hospital. As any child would be, I was devastated and it almost destroyed me at the time if it had not been for the desire to prove her wrong. That was a good start so I went ahead and received a scholarship for college and graduated.

Dr. Lowe, my professor at San Francisco State badgered me and mentored me until I was able to obtain confidence in myself and to remember that the only opinion that really matters is the opinion that you think of yourself. In addition, I surrounded myself with true friends that I loved dearly that always, until this very day, tell you the truth and the way it really is but also helping you to find solutions. Those friends over the years have become my family. So great that you can choose your friends and make them your family.

Ways to Build Confidence:

Take action
Get it done. The most important step in building self confidence is simply to take action. Working on something and getting it done. Sitting at home and thinking about it will just make you feel worse. Simple. But not always easy to do. To make it a bit easier, here are a three of my favorite ways to make it easer to take action:
  • Be present. This will help you snap out of over thinking and just go and do whatever you want to get done. This is probably the best tip I have found so far for taking more action since it puts you in a state where you feel little emotional resistance to the work you’ll do. And it puts you in a state where the right actions often just seem to flow out of you in a focused, but relaxed way and without much effort. One of the simplest ways to connect with the present moment is just to keep your focus on your breathing for a minute or two.
  • Lighten up. One way to dissuade yourself from taking action is to take whatever you are about to do too seriously. That makes it feel too big, too difficult and too scary. If you on the other hand relax a bit and lighten up you often realize that those problems and negative feelings are just something you are creating in your own mind. With a lighter state of mind your tasks seems lighter and become easier to get started with. 
  • Really, really want it. Taking action isn’t something you have to force. Taking action becomes a very natural thing. It’s something you can’t wait to do.
Face your Fears

“The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear.”
William Jennings Bryan
I could blow air up your skirt by telling you to do affirmations or other exercises for months in front of your mirror. It works for some people and helps one to focus. It may also have a positive effect on you. Just like preparing yourself it may help you to take action with more confidence.
To be totally honest, if you listen to the quote above and face your fears you may experience better self confidence on a deeper and more fundamental level. Having experiences where you face your fear is what really builds self confidence. There is no way around it. Scary, yes it is as I have been through it. Every new experience can be frightening but having the right tools to combat it makes a dramatic difference. However, there are ways to face your fears that do not include that much shaking and trembling of the knees. There are ways to make it easier for yourself:
  • Be curious. When you are stuck in fear you are closed down. You tend to create division in your world and mind. You create barriers between you and others. When you shift to being curious your perceptions open up. Curiosity is filled with anticipation and enthusiasm. It opens you up. And when you are open and enthusiastic then you have more fun things to think about than focusing on your fear. How do you become more curious? One way is to remember how life has become more fun in the past thanks to your curiosity and to remember all the cool things it helped you to discover and experience.
  • Realize that fear is often based on unhelpful interpretation. As humans we like to look for patterns. The problem is just that we often find negative and not so helpful patterns in our lives based on just one or two experiences. Often we may misjudge situations. When you get too attached to certain thoughts, you may start to believe anything that those thoughts may tell you. 
Understand the Order of How Things Happen
  • When you do things you don’t just build confidence in your ability to handle different situations. You also experience progressive desensitization. What that means is that situations, like for example, public speaking or maybe just showing your latest blogpost or design to an audience out there – that made you feel nervous can become more and more normal in your life. It is no longer something you psyche yourself up to do. It just becomes normal like doing a google search, putting on your socks, hanging out with your friends or cooking your favorite meal.
  • It may seem scary now. But after having done whatever you fear a few times you may think: “Is that it?” You almost feel disappointed of how anticlimactic it has become. You may even get a bit angry with yourself and wonder why you avoided doing it for so long.

Creating a Personal Commercial

  • One of the best ways to build confidence is listening to a motivational speech. Unfortunately, opportunities to listen to a great speaker are few and far between. You can fill this need by creating a personal commercial. Write or record a 30-60 second speech that highlights your strengths and goals. Then recite it in front of the mirror aloud (or inside your head if you prefer) whenever you need a confidence boost. Often I have recorded such a short affirmation or message on my iPhone, along with other positive notes and listen to each of them every morning or before bed. Positive messages before bed can help an individual to have positive dreams and thoughts as we often do a lot of mental work while we are sleeping and in the subconscious. Mornings are a great time to stimulate the brain.


  • When you focus too much on what you want, the mind creates reasons why you can’t achieve it, therefore leading you to dwell on your weaknesses. The best way to avoid this is consciously focusing on gratitude. Everyday, I have learned to set aside time to mentally list everything that I am grateful, jotting down a list in my little notebook. I have been known to document everything electronically and also in writing. It helps to recall your past successes, unique skills, loving relationships, and positive momentum. You’ll be amazed how much you have going for yourself that can motivate you to take steps towards success.
 Compliment Others
Thinking negatively about ourselves can often project that feeling on to others in the form of insults, criticisms, and gossip. To break this cycle of negativity, get in the habit of praising or trying to see the good in other people. Refuse to engage in backstabbing gossip and make an effort to compliment those around you. In the process, you’ll become well liked and build self confidence. By looking for the best in others, you indirectly bring out the best in yourself.
Speak up
During group discussions many people never speak up because they’re afraid that others will judge them for saying what's right. Let's face it, not everyone is in a good space or has your best intentions in mind, especially managers, bosses or co-workers who may be extremely insecure and therefore behave as a bully.  I have learned that children as bullies only grow up to become adult bullies on the job, in your apartment or condo building, on the road, and everyone you may look. You know the signs, just activate your memory switch.  Often they become bully managers, speaking loudly to instill fright. Nevertheless, they are usually insecure and I like to think, lacking adequate intelligence or professional courtesy or the ability to be fair. In fact most people are dealing with similar fears. By making a concerted effort to speak up at least once in every group discussion, you’ll become a better public speaker, more confident in your own thoughts, and recognized as a leader by your peers.
Visible Appearance
Along the same lines as personal appearance, physical fitness has a huge effect on your self confidence. If you’re out of shape, you’ll feel insecure, unattractive, and less energetic. By working out, even once per week by walking, biking or doing yoga, you improve your physcial appearance, energize yourself, and accomplish something positive. Having the discipline to work out not only makes you feel better, it creates positive momentum that you can build on the rest of the day. It also helps your posture at home, at school, work or when out with friends. 
Focus on contribution
Too often we get caught up in our own desires. We focus too much on ourselves and not enough on the needs of other people. It's normal to become attached to different things that appear to have an affect on us in our lives. For example, my car windows were smashed and the hard top was recently stolen while parked on the streets of San Francisco. For weeks I examined my mind on why I parked the car where I did convincing myself that it was my fault. In reality and now I realized that it had nothing to do with me but more with the corruption and criminals that exists to take advantage of any and everyone. If you stop thinking about yourself and concentrate on the contribution you’re making to the rest of the world, you won’t worry as much about you own flaws. This will increase self confidence and allow you to contribute with maximum efficiency. The more you contribute to the world the more you’ll be rewarded with personal success and recognition.
What the #*^&?
You are probably thinking, what the heck does this have to do with Shark training? Dr. Lowe had a few favorites that she liked using to describe people. Well we started by observing and having a better understanding of fish and listed a few:
  • Guppies are considered happy go lucky small fish that swim around without a care in the world. Dr. Lowe considered me a guppy, the biggest type too. She considered guppies as simply food and deserved to be eaten or destroyed because they appeared weak, even if they were not. They simply didn't understand how to do with business colleagues. Most guppies would be unable to compete successfully in business and may lack confidence because they were taught properly. I can still hear her voice pretending to be a guppy moaning and groaning and dripping blood.
  • Piranha have a reputation as ferocious predators that hunt their prey. Recent research tells us that they "started off with the premise that they school as a means of cooperative hunting". They have been discovered to be timid fish that schooled for protection from their own predators, such as cormorants, caimans, and dolphins. Piranhas are basically like regular fish with large teeth. Piranha also attack for the sake of attacking. Whether you are a friend or colleague, eventually they will take a bite out of you. Have you ever heard of the saying, "Biting the hand that feeds you?" It's true with a piranha personality type person. Can you think of someone that behaves this way? Think very carefully.
  • Tiger fish is yet another ferocious species that is extremely territorial and protective. Learn who the tiger fish are in your surroundings and proceed with caution. Try not to disturb this one too much and if you do, let them know that you can be as equally ferocious when standing up for what you believe to be the truth. Seen any tiger fish lately?
  • Sharks are found everywhere. In families, schools, on jobs, restaurants, department stores, almost anywhere. According to Dr. Lowe, sharks only feed when they are hungry and have a strong sense of respect for each other. They don't attack each other. The predatory skills fascinate and frighten most people. They are beautiful creatures that appear to glide effortless, watching and listening very carefully to everything occurring around them. The best lesson I learned was how to observe and mimic a shark. Experience has taught me that it's better to learn shark training when you are not a shark. If you can convince a shark co-worker or friend, you will be invited into the inner circles and protected. Remember, practice makes perfect. Now do you know a shark personality?
Now, decide which one you are -- shark, tiger fish, piranha, guppy or a goldfish?  It's always fun to make a list of people and to label them according to these personalities. Now watch them and enjoy the ride.