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Building new mental habits and recognising how we as individuals get triggered

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17th January 2022

Building new mental habits and recognising how we as individuals get triggered

MCE managing director, Paul McErlean, writes in his monthly Irish News column...

"In 1957, in the city of Milwaukee, a family business owner called Bob Nourse brought a group of business people together from non-competing companies to seek their advice. He called it The Executive Committee and his aim was to help himself make better decisions about his business through the advice and insight he might get from his peers and of course, that they would do likewise for their businesses.

As with many good business ideas, it wasn’t an original one. As a printer in Philadelphia in the 1720s, one of the great founders of the United States, Benjamin Franklin, similarly convened a small group of people to help each other professionally. Before his political career Franklin revolutionised the printing world, and while Nourse may not have had such an impact, that first Executive Committee in Milwaukee has since grown into the world’s largest executive coaching organisation for small and medium-sized businesses. It is now called Vistage International and it has over 24,000 paying members in 20 countries, including groups here and in Dublin.

About 12 years ago Robert Moore, who was then managing director of Linden Foods, and Aran Blackbourne, managing director of the Karl Group, took me out for a coffee and asked would I consider joining their Vistage Group here. The commitment was about one day a month, when the group would go to a location, usually one of the members’ businesses, and we would learn about a certain topic and then share some business issues which we would like to get our fellow members’ guidance on. It was strictly confidential, and because nobody in the room was a competitor, it created an excellent environment for learning and development. And decision-making.

Of course, there was a monthly fee for the privilege, which included a challenging individual session with our chair, Edmund Johnston. For the three years I was a member, I got a lot out of it, and I made some decisions that I would never have made if it wasn’t for my fellow members and Edmund. I’m telling you all this because as we enter 2022, I have been thinking about one of the sessions we had in 2011, a little reminder of which I have been carrying around in my wallet ever since.

Across two days, once a year, our Vistage group would do a residential and bring in an international speaker and, in the spring of 2011, we headed off to the Lough Erne resort in Fermanagh to hear an American Vistage speaker called Harvey Goldberg. Harvey was a real character, we really enjoyed our day with him. He had been a Vistage member for many years before he sold his pharmacy chain and he then decided he would impart some of his career learnings by becoming a Vistage chair and speaker.

His session was aimed at helping us build new mental habits that would enable us to both reach and sustain higher levels of performance and develop more effective coping skills in the face of rapid change and in particular, situations where we had been negatively ‘triggered’. That might sound like a bit of business psychology mumbo-jumbo, but it wasn’t. It was really about trying to improve our mental agility and understanding ourselves a bit better - so that we could recognise and cope with moments (and people) which could potentially send us off-course.

I can’t cover it all here (look up Harvey Goldberg: ‘Mastering Triggers’ if interested) but it was a simple enough process and at its core was recognising how we as individuals get triggered. It was also very much centred around how we treat people, even when we are triggered or challenged.

And it was really this part of the session that has stuck with me and why I am still carrying Harvey’s little reminder card around with me ever since.

On one side of the card is Harvey’s Trigger Recovery Process and on the other side is a quotation credited to the German writer and polymath, Goethe. The Goethe quote seems even more relevant today as we face into 2022 with the pandemic still a major problem and the challenges, mental and otherwise, people still seem to be facing, as great as ever…

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element.

It is my personal approach that creates the climate.

It is my daily mood that makes the weather.

I possess tremendous power to make a life miserable or joyous.

I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.

I can humiliate or humour, hurt or heal.

In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a person humanized or de-humanized.

If we treat people as they are, we make them worse.

If we treat ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

Happy New Year all, here’s to a successful (and tolerant) 2022."

Photo by S Migaj on Unsplash