Do as I Say, Not as I Do!

For this article by Jo Ilfeld, Executive Leadership Coach on setting a good example the image a group of penguins following the lead penguin.

Do as I Say, Not as I Do!

This infamous statement, if not spoken by most parents and leaders, certainly is an accurate reflection of the type of behaviors we want to cultivate in others. You want them to learn from your mistakes, not adopt your bad habits and to generally be happier and more fulfilled than you are. Or is that just me?

I’ve had workaholic clients who share that they don’t expect everyone else to work as hard as them, that they don’t expect quick answers when they write late-night emails and they hope that employees won’t jump on a non-urgent phone call if its during family dinner in their time-zone. I have sympathy for them. . . and their direct reports. It’s hard to change your “productivity-first” habits and it’s also hard to be the one saying no and drawing your boundaries.

Recently I’ve been hearing from clients, as well as noticing in myself that there’s a sameness to my days. You’ve passed the rush of hope at starting a brand-new year, winter holidays are in the rearview and summer seems like eons away. The problem with February days is that there can be a Groundhog Day quality to them as you start to “work the plan” to achieve your 2023 goals and your quarterly KPIs.

I notice in myself that even though I don’t have to clock in and out (I do own my own business, after all), I regularly find myself done with my most important work and meetings, only to stay languishing at my computer to answer two, or fifty more emails, respond to some LinkedIn comments and read yet another Harvard Business Review (HBR) article.

Then, despite this being HOW I CHOSE to spend my time, at the end of the day I still feel that I didn’t have enough spontaneous fun.

I was recently listening to a Ted talk on why we need more fun in our lives. I thought about why I personally have struggled to up my fun quotient in 2023. So writing this article actually feels like composing a love letter to myself on how to break out of the February doldrums.

In her Ted Talk, Catherine Price talks about how fun is usually at the intersection of playfulness, connection and flow.  Playfulness, well I hope you know what that is! Flow, most of you likely recognize that there are those times when you’re checking your watch, and times when you’re completely absorbed. Connection though is interesting, Price finds that most fun is had when you’re interacting with other people. This was most insightful to me since I often find that my tendency when I’m feeling blah is to find a fun Netflix movie or go for a long hike.

While Price is probably spot on that one mediocre Netflix rom-com won’t cure your blues, newly published research from UCBerkeley’s Dacher Keltner suggests that while my hike in the Berkeley hills might not fall into the definition of fun, it does inspire Awe which has other psychological benefits.

So if you’ve been experiencing some languishing, here are my top 3 recommendations for beating back the blahs:

1) Play Hooky For At Least A Few Hours
Recently I’ve had true joy meeting a friend and work colleague for a midday lunch near a quaint shopping street in my town. Sure, I could call it a “work lunch,” but sitting in the sun without worrying if I would miss my next work meeting felt escapist. And not only did I enjoy the leisurely lunch, I compounded that feeling of playing hooky by stopping to browse at several stores on the way back to my car. I found an unexpected birthday gift for my Mom and realized how little I spend time truly wandering these days.

If you’re like most of my clients, you’re shaking your head and thinking, “must be nice but there’s no time for ME to play hooky!” In just one blog I can’t convince you to choose to allow yourself a small temporary boundary against the ceaseless siren call of work – but perhaps I can suggest that if not during the week, at least find a few hours on the weekend where you can give yourself a break from your high expectations of what you need to accomplish before Monday.

2) Get together, IN-PERSON, for fun (maybe with your best friend?)
Besides my work lunch in the sun, I cajoled my best friend into a leisurely Sunday night dinner together. We text, and we talk on the phone, but sitting and laughing with my best and oldest friend across the table, felt like a boost of oxytocin straight to the pleasure center of my brain.

In this zoom world of ours, it’s easy for you to feel like you’re spending your whole day talking to people without ever leaving your office chair. These interactions can be fun, supportive, and meaningful – but I’m convinced the two-dimensionality of our computers never lives up to its three-dimensional counterpart. Maybe it’s the lack of a hug or a warm pat on your shoulder. Maybe it’s the distractions that linger right behind the zoom screen. Or maybe it’s the way that you’re not both in the same context at the same time that creates some natural distance. Probably all of the above!

And if your best friend isn’t just across the Bay Bridge? Maybe there’s someone else you’ve been wanting to get to know better. . . no time like the present!

3) Take a Hike, or Pickleball, or. . . 
For me, there is nothing as mood-shifting for me as getting outside for a (slow) run, hiking my favorite trail with beautiful look-outs, or even walking dogs with my close friend and neighbor. Science keeps reminding us that our bodies were built to move, so every time you want to “just get one more thing done,” before you close your laptop, is in essence time you are fighting nature. It’s not surprising that when we spend all day indoors ignoring our essential human nature, we find ourselves with a broken connection to what inspires us. How often are you getting outdoors to move your body?

And yes, I realize I’m writing this from the mild winters of California whereas you might be buried in midwestern snow – I’m still convinced that bundling up for some outdoor ice skating followed by hot chocolate would do you good!

What have I learned by writing this? What do I want you to take away?

My biggest insight, perhaps the one step missing from Price’s Ted Talk, is the incredible power of choosing out of the well-worn grooves you have. Think about it…most of us don’t consciously feel like we’re choosing to go to work every day as we check our phones, open our email apps, and click on the links in our calendar to set off and running. Deciding you want to feel differently in your life, and actively planning new ways to make that happen – that’s where the magic of owning your experience comes in!

Oh and by the way. . .we’re also getting a new puppy in a couple of weeks! I’m not saying that’s for everyone but what joy are you willing to choose for yourself?

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

Leave a Comment