When a ship enters the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal, there's risk to both ship and lock. A few feet to port or starboard can make the difference between a safe passage and a dangerous collision with one of the lock walls. That's why the locks have guide walls, or fenders, that jut out from the lock entrance at about a 45-degree angle, roughly in the shape of a V.
These walls guide errant ships toward the lock, making sure that the ship is "in the groove." Scott Acone of the US Army Corps of Engineers explains that the structure "…ensures that the ships make it into the passage without a direct hit on the lock itself. They ensure a more glancing blow, which doesn't damage either the ship or the lock."
Our minds have "guide walls" too. When we've used a particular behavior frequently, we develop "grooves" that make it easy to find that behavior again without thinking. But there's a price — when we aren't thinking clearly, the only choices we can make are those that require no thinking. And the patterns we're most likely to find are those with the most effective guide walls.
we sometimes behave
like children. Why?Under stress, we tend to use behaviors that we learned long ago and that we've used a lot. And those behaviors tend not to be the ones we learned more recently, as mature, thinking adults. Instead, we find more easily the behaviors that we learned long ago, as children, when our choices were more limited. That's one reason why, under stress, we sometimes do behave like children.
Where do your guide walls take you? We're all unique. Some popular destinations are anger, helplessness, abusing others, wackiness, retreat, hero worship, medication, stuckness, and complexity. You probably know yours — maybe too well.
Here are some tips that can help you find the choices you'd like to make instead.
- Learn to notice stress
- Canal locks have much more protection than just guide walls. There are lights and buoys and other warnings that alert pilots to the approaches.
- Knowing that you're stressed is the first step to better choices. Learn what your own stress symptoms are, and practice noticing them.
- Slow down
- Canal pilots ease their ships into the locks very carefully. They need time to make course corrections.
- If you notice that you're stressed, slow down. Breathe. Give yourself time to make better choices.
- Accept the need for practice
- The guide walls at the Gatun Locks are massive, and took time and tremendous effort to build.
- Our guide walls aren't physical walls, but building them takes time, too. We build them by choosing consciously, and by observing our own progress.
Love the work but not the job? Bad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? This ebook looks at what we can do to get more out of life at work. It helps you get moving again! Read Go For It! Sometimes It's Easier If You Run, filled with tips and techniques for putting zing into your work life. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenioAfiqlFloTvKulsner@ChacYGWhcDxhLvGbbmPPoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Message Mismatches
- Sometimes we misinterpret the messages we receive — what we see or hear. It's frustrating, and
tempers can flare on both sides. But if we keep in mind two ideas, we can reduce the effects of message
- The Shower Effect: Sudden Insights
- Ever have a brilliant insight, a forehead-slapping moment? You think, "Now I get it!" or "Why
didn't I think of this before?" What causes these moments? How can we make them happen sooner?
- Workplace Barn Raisings
- Until about 75 years ago, barn raising was a common custom in the rural United States. People came together
from all parts of the community to help construct one family's barn. Although the custom has largely
disappeared in rural communities, we can still benefit from the barn raising approach in problem-solving
- Why Sidebars Happen
- Sidebar conversations between meeting participants, conducted while someone else has the floor, are
a distracting form of disorder that can waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. Why do sidebars happen?
- Paradoxical Policies: I
- Although most organizational policies are constructive, many are outdated or nonsensical, and some are
actually counterproductive. Here's a collection of policies that would be funny if they weren't real.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
- Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
- And on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenjyGVhrDyHTCcliRAner@ChacqtwJSRKloPIGhkZYoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.