Using State Management on a Team of Zombies

To say we were all exhausted would be an understatement. After nine almost 16-hour days, managing 150 high school students, even the Energizer Bunny would probably tap out.

My 20-person staff had one more day of the 10-day program. I needed the team to show up with the same amount of energy they had on Day One. But seeing them all walk into the planning meeting like zombies didn’t give me much hope.

As the leader of the team, I needed to come up with something fast to change their current zombie state. The challenge was that I was also running on empty. After all, I was not only in charge of 150 students, but also the 20 employees. At that moment, I was feeling extremely overwhelmed. But I knew the team was looking at me to see how they should show up.

In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor shares research managers who felt swamped and overwhelmed by their jobs had the worst performing teams with the lowest net profits. I wasn’t about to let my team’s performance slip because of my own physical and mental state.

To turns things around, I knew it was time to call in the big guns… Yoda.

Ok just kidding, it doesn’t have anything to do with Yoda. But when I first learned about the term State Management, all I could think about was Yoda levitating above the ground.

State Management is the ability to manage your thoughts, emotions, and physiology at any given moment

Your Thoughts:

These are all the things you are thinking inside your head. It’s the little voice inside your head… yes, the little voice that is telling you right now that you don’t have a little voice.

Your Emotions: 

These are all the feelings you are feeling. Maybe you are happy, mad, sad, or bored.

Your Physiology:

This is how your body is positioned at any given moment. Are you slouched down in your chair? Are you sitting up? Are your arms crossed? Are you rolling your eyes?

Why does state matter? Why would it matter how well you are able to manage your thoughts, emotions, and physiology? Well, the things you are thinking and feeling, and how your body is positioned, equal your outcome.

If you are saying negative things inside your head, while wearing your mean face, and your arms are crossed deep into each other, it’s going to be very hard to be positive in any particular situation.

Your state equals your outcome

The key to state management is that at any given moment you have 100% control. This means that you get to choose your state. And if you get to choose your state, you get to choose your outcome! Easy to say, not always easy to practice.

There is a trick, however, to quickly changing your state. This is the knowledge that all three parts of your state are interconnected. Meaning- if you change one part of your state, the other two parts will change.

Now which part of your state do you think is easiest to change?

If you said thoughts, you’d be almost right.
If you said emotions, you’d be even closer to right.
If you said physiology, you’d be correct!

Let’s walk through it together.

Imagine you just bombed a huge sales presentation. How long will it take you to forget it?

Imagine your significant other just broke up with you. How much time will it take to mend your broken heart?

In both cases, the answer is probably “a while”. (Unless you are happily saying “Good riddance!” to your ex – then good for you!)

It’s easier to physically change how our body’s position (your physiology) than thoughts and emotions

Changing your physiology can be as simple as standing up and sitting down. Go ahead, try it out right now by standing up and doing five jumping jacks and then sitting back down. I’ll wait…

Ok, chances are you probably didn’t actually get up and do jumping jacks just then. I won’t hold too much of a grudge against you. But next time you feel tired during a meeting, stand up and jump five times. Sure everyone will think you are odd, but notice how much more alive your body feels right after you sit back down. Your mind will also be more alert and your thoughts will be more focused. If you change one part of your state, then the other two parts will change.

“Motion is emotion.”

– Tony Robbins

Now that you are a master of your state, let’s go back to my meeting with the 20 zombies that I called my team. To get us to full energy for the final day of the program, I knew I needed to do two things:

1. Change my state

Running is a release for me. I didn’t have time to run prior to the meeting, but I did have time for a seven minute workout. So I snuck back to my room, put on “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen, and plowed through seven minutes of working out. The combination of physically moving plus a favorite song of mine jolted my state enough to be ready for our planning meeting.

2. Change their state

After my workout, I messaged my team and told them to all bring one sock to the planning meeting. Despite the ensuing questions in response, I kept quiet and left them in suspense.

Once everyone had arrived into the meeting with their socks, I waited a few moments to start. Then, I slipped my sock on my hand, raised it above my head and said, “Hello everyone, it’s time to start the meeting. For our final meeting, I’m challenging all of you to speak only through your sock puppets.” The group laughed as they watched my sock puppet’s mouth move while I talked.

During the rest of the meeting, we all laughed and smiled as the team took creative liberty as to how they would speak through their sock puppets. The result was a complete change in state and mood. The group went from low energy to high, from negative to positive. The end result was that our team rolled into the final day with the same level of energy as they had on the first day.

Emotional Contagion

A concept called Emotional Contagion states that people tend to take on the emotional state of each other. In other words, emotional energy can transfer from one person to another. While negative energy is transferable, so can positive energy. In some cases, having one positive person on a team can change the attitude of the whole team. In my situation above with my zombie employees, I chose to step up, engage state management, and be the positive emotional energy that then lifted everyone else up. The same can work for any leader with any team. First manage your own state, then manage the state of the team.

See more tips on state management and re-energizing your team on this episode of SKTV.

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