At Your Service: Jan. 7, 2009

Last week it was a new year and already it seems we are back to business as usual. Business as usual, that is, if you have become accustomed to operating based on fear. These are interesting times; that’s “interesting” as in the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” There are many reasons to be careful, take precautions and act wisely, but fear is a fuel that consumes the engine it powers.
Fear is a tricky animal. The more it is indulged, the stronger it becomes. The worst thing about fear is that, once let loose, it will run everywhere – especially into those arenas where it has no reason to go. The person plagued with fear about losing their job is likely to stew about it and get no sleep. Because they are sleep deprived, they may become argumentative. Their spouse (also likely to be sleep deprived) gets fed up, decides they won’t take it any more and leaves. The person may not have lost their job, but how long are they likely to keep it in the throes of a break-up, even if these were good times. They become even more fearful.
In times similar to these, FDR said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” It is an attitude that it serves us well to emulate.
The elements of the economy are going to keep operating no matter what we do. Congress and the new administration will take steps to alleviate the situation that will take effect over the next few years; there is no way to predict the actual results of their actions. Some of our customers will fall upon hard times and stop shopping or using our services. Some people will decide to stay home rather than going skiing or vacationing. All this and more has the potential to hurt our business.
In the face of potential devastation, we have choices. No choice is more important than which attitude we will adopt to get us through. It is a tougher choice, but staying on the up side is likely to yield better results. There is a great deal of evidence to support the value of “positive thinking”. I am not talking about living in denial, I am instead encouraging you to keep your eye on the prize.
Staying positive also feels better. With your focus on the future and what you aim to accomplish, it is easier to take the next steps – you can see where you want to go. Setting realistic goals gives purpose to your actions and provides benchmarks against which you can measure your progress. Taking small steps that lead to your goal enables you to continue moving forward, even when you fall short of a particular expectation. Momentum will build and carry you over some of the rougher moments.
Adrenaline could be called the fear hormone. It is a powerful hormone our body produces to get us going in an emergency; it stimulates the heart rate, dilates the blood vessels and air passages that will enable the body to survive fight or flight situations. Additionally, adrenaline stimulates a narrowing of vision; the eyes focus more sharply on the cause of the emergency. The body, however, is not equipped for the continual flow of the get-up-and-go hormones. Long term health and well being depend upon our ability to remain calm most of the time. Knowing that you are making progress keeps you on a more even keel, which leads to a more regular heartbeat, less stress and increases your ability to see where you are headed.
Recent studies revealed (as if it was news) that happiness is contagious. When one person is happy, it has a positive impact on people around them and eventually impacts the lives of those unrelated to the original happy person. Happiness is not a constant state, but instead a choice that people make in the face of adversity. Everyone faces problems, but those who take them in stride and keep a positive attitude weather the storms more easily.
This has the potential to directly impact your bottom line as well. Customers must make hard choices these days about where to spend their money. In an effort to get the biggest bang for their buck, one factor is always the experience they have in the process. Dealing with a person who leaves them with a good feeling generates an experience they want to have again. It won’t overcome bad pricing strategies or poor quality merchandise, but providing good, friendly service will give you an edge.