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Building Change Agility with "Time Under Tension"

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Time Under Tension (TUT) is a concept used in personal physical training. The basic concept is that you increase muscle transformation with increased time under tension. For example, rather than just lift and lower a weight, which takes about 3 seconds, you could use a 6-count to double the muscle’s "time under tension," lifting for 1 count, holding the weight for 2 counts, and lowering the weight for 3 counts. Exercise bands can be used this way as well, keeping tension in the bands the entire time while performing an exercise. Using time under tension methods for weight lifting builds more lean, elongated muscles, per the exercise experts, rather than the larger, bulkier kind achieved with short bursts of heavy effort. Many of the most popular workouts today, from Cross-fit to Pilates, utilize the concept of time under tension.

How can we use the concept of time under tension in practical terms, away from the gym, as a tool for making change a way of life?

TUT #1: Seek Opposing Viewpoints

Confirmation Bias (or confirmatory bias) is a term used in psychology and cognitive science; it means to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, which in research, leads to statistical errors. As human beings, we are naturally driven to confirm what we already believe, and then look for people, stories, resources — anything that will confirm our belief for us.

In an organization, you need not look any further than the water cooler or the lunch room to find evidence of confirmation bias. Individuals share stories about things happening in the workplace in an attempt to confirm that the meaning they made about them is warranted — that others would make that same meaning if it happened to them.

It can be difficult to consider that your belief about some situation, person or thing could be flawed or incomplete, let alone completely off. Recently I sat in an all day course, and throughout the day our instructor offered alternate perspectives on some of the most controversial current events. I admit, my initial reaction was resistance to his ideas, but I decided to hear him out and to notice my judgments of him based on the things he was saying.

It took some work and some focus, but I felt like I left the session a better person simply by opening my mind to a new idea. Letting my mind entertain an opposite position, and staying with it without judgment, is an example of putting my mindset in tension — and holding it there.

TUT #2: Learning Something New — like really new!

It is one thing to learn more about something you already know a lot about; it is completely different to open your mind to learning something that feels more out of your comfort zone. It could be as simple as learning how to back up a trailer, to learning a foreign language, to learning to paint — especially if you don’t think you are artistic. The farther out of your comfort zone, the better. The trick, of course, is to stick with the training plan through to completion, doing the exercises along the way. It’s letting yourself experience the awkwardness of integrating new content and moving past old fears.

TUT #3: Open Up to Feedback

I once worked with an HR Manager who was having some performance problems at work. This manager had been given feedback verbally and in writing, including formal performance reviews and special performance plans, about the kind of changes in performance that were needed for success. He made changes, but never quite made them stick, reverting back to old behaviors and ending up in similar performance trouble. Eventually he was given the opportunity to go be successful somewhere else.

When you receive feedback that is outside of your personal view of yourself, you have to somehow make room for the possibility that your version of you is not quite on point. I remember a situation in my own career where a co-worker complained that I had ruined her self esteem by what I had said and done over the six months we had been working together. I listened for 90 minutes, taking copious notes, as she recounted every incident, every statement. When she finished, I thanked her for sharing that information with me, had a good cry, and then sought out my manager. My take away? That if even 10% of this was true — that I had this much negative impact on this other person and I hadn’t picked up on it, then I had work to do as a leader. That incident marked the beginning of a journey. I didn’t make more of it than it was, but I also didn’t dismiss it as nothing. It was 90 minutes of time under tension and today I am grateful for the experience.

As you get more comfortable spending time under tension, learning new things, challenging your mindset -- getting out of your own comfort zone, you also get more comfortable with all the emotions that come with discomfort, like fear and anxiety.  The adrenaline rush that naturally accompanies times of stress becomes familiar, rather than foreign.  And you are better able to work through the feelings, breathe past the stressful parts, and move through new situations.  You build your own change-agility.  As an added bonus, as you become more comfortable with your own reactions, you are more able to be with and support others.  Your comfort with yourself brings comfort with others. 

What other ways do you have for building change-agility using time under tension?  Or, how does the concept of time under tension apply in your change-leadership role?  Please comment below.

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Thursday, 15 November 2018