Recently, during a team workshop, one of my clients told a story that touched me deeply.

He is in the business of supplying medical equipment to doctors and nurses. He was on a visit to a hospital in Australia that has recently introduced robots into its business routines. These robots serve, interact with patients and do certain daily tasks usually performed by the nurses. A post pilot survey revealed that the elderly patients were most happy with the introduction of the robots in this hospital. Why? Well, the survey results explained that those patients were delighted with the level of attention and care they received from the robots. For example, when they asked a question, the robot not only listened but responded in a way in which they felt cared for and heard.

The employee who shared the story was touched and saddened. He expressed his disbelief in how certain workplaces have evolved to where robots deliver more happiness than their human colleagues. It was a wake-up call for him; one that became a catalyst for wanting to influence the team around him to be more human when interacting with customers and each other.

This story is not a standalone example. Without being too dramatic, I think each person who reads this article may have a similar story where they have seen machines (with no heart) deliver a better level of service than a human. Why is this so? Why are so many of us walking around asleep?

On any given day, humans get distracted; we get moody, and we get lazy. Our brains are like overloaded circuits; we are surrounded by distracting, over stimulating and sometimes toxic environments, and we are running at a pace faster than ever before. It is no wonder we see humans serving humans on autopilot.

I don’t think heartless service becomes a question of capability, rather it becomes a question of how well we manage ourselves when interacting with others. In a recent Forbes article, self-management was described as the ability to quickly scan a range of potential responses to any situation and choose the one that leads to preferable outcomes. It means being aware of your automatic, hair-trigger emotional response—your autopilot—and overriding it when necessary.

My approach to managing self is a daily, conscious practice. For those of you wishing to improve how you manage yourselves when interacting with others, I would encourage the following skills:

  1. Self-awareness: the ability to witness when your mood, thoughts and triggers from the outside world take over. You have awareness of what is happening in that moment.
  2. Self-discipline: the ability to act with mental alertness and put in the required emotional labour, even when we don’t feel like it.

Last month, I shared my experiences of how I begun the journey of developing self-awareness. I also shared tactics to help you become more aware of your thoughts, emotions and triggers. Assuming you are practising self-awareness, and this is improving each day, then the next part of the equation to managing self is to consider your level of self-discipline.

A commitment to an end result

Self-discipline can be a super power for leaders. Some of us might call it motivation; however, I like the word ‘discipline’ because it comes from the word ‘disciple’, which means to be in a constant state of learning, surrendering to your ego and being obedient to the higher purpose.

There is an underlying tone of commitment with discipline that allows the action to follow through—you chose to commit to something and you become a disciple of that.

When I committed to writing a book, I had an end result in mind; therefore, it became easy to practise daily self-discipline. And now, I still have the energy (even on the days when I don’t feel like it) to carry forward, inspire others along the way, develop good habits and let go of bad ones. It’s like the action of rowing a boat that gets you where you want to be.

Conscious practice of habits

Often when we are practising consciously the application of new habits, it is because we are trying to create behavioural change. For example, when I knew that in order for me to write my book, I had to commit to two hours of writing per night. I had always ‘told’ myself that I wasn’t sharp in the evening and my best writing was done in the morning. In order for me to rewire my behaviour, I had to be self-disciplined enough to sit down and start writing. I had to consciously choose to create new habits (at night) that allowed for this behavioural change, and I had to apply effort in creating those new habits, which eventually led to my end result—I wrote the book.

My new favourite book Atomic habits by James Clear, refers to the four laws of behavioural change: cue, craving, response and reward. This is the framework for creating good habits and breaking bad ones. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn practical, easy ways of creating change through habits.

Too often we hear people say that something is important to them yet they don’t make time for it.

It’s important to me to have more time with my family.

It’s important to me to make time to go to the gym/exercise.

It’s important to me to make time to learn the business more.

It’s important to me to make time to develop stronger relationships at work.

If you find yourself ‘saying’ that something is important to you, yet your actions don’t seem to reflect this goal, then go back to the goal and ask yourself two questions:

  1. How much do I want that end result? (How committed am I?)
  2. What behavioural change or habit would I need to practice for me to reach that end result?

We all have the ability to override the autopilot and be more self-aware. If we want to be masters of our work, then we can certainly find the self-discipline to reach that goal.

All my life, my dad has been a role model for self-discipline. He has shown me what it takes to commit to things that are important to him: happiness, cultivating a peaceful state of mind, maintaining quality relationships, health and wellbeing. Through his actions and small daily habits, he continues to achieve the goals he has set himself and when he says something is important to him, I know he has the discipline to back that statement up with action.

We all have a responsibility to self-manage, it’s part of being human. Go gently.

Jaquie Scammell

‘Love Being in Service’

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