One week ago tonight I was in New York for work when I received a phone call from my very relieved husband telling me that a young man we know well had completely totaled his SUV. He flipped the car four times and crawled out of the window and walked up the hill to call for help with only a few scratches and a feeling of gratitude that he was still alive. The driver behind him was able to tell him what he saw our friend doing before the car went off the road and began flipping. Basically, he was in the left hand lane moving over to the right when he caught sight of a car coming up on him quickly. It appeared that he jerked his car to the left, then jerked it to the right, then when it started to slide he jerked it left again and at 65 mph the car started to careen out of control. We are very grateful that only the car was lost that evening. (btw, this is NOT his car - a stock image to provide a visual for you)
I tell you that story because it is a bit of a dramatization of what can happen when we notice something and overreact. I see it all the time in personal, as well as organizational behavior. I think about a friend of mine back in junior high. Her parents were super strict about her curfew. She had to be home by 9:00 p.m. on a weeknight. In our little town, there were two show times at the movie theater and even if we went to the early showing at 7 p.m., she couldn't make it home to her house by 9:00. If she missed the curfew, she would get grounded for a month. I understand that parents can make up their own rules, but that seems kind of rigid doesn't it? Well, at the end of 6th grade when we moved into junior high, the pendulum swung to the complete other side. She had no curfew at all, and guess who started to get in all sorts of trouble in 7th grade? It wasn't just the curfew that changed, nearly all the "rules" she had as an elementary school student were gone overnight and she didn't handle the new found freedom very well.
I think about many things in my own life where I tend to do something, which produces a result, and instead of making minor adjustments, I make a huge shift to the other end of the spectrum. Dieting? Eating whatever I want, which may include bowls of ice cream at bedtime, to no ice cream at all. The summer before I got married, I went from eating whatever I wanted to eating nothing but salads and drinking Tab for 3 months. Tell me that's healthy!!!! I didn't golf at all and then when I start to take lessons, I felt the need to golf all the time - driving range twice a week and a couple of rounds of golf per week. I'm lucky that I haven't hurt anything. How about working out? I see my students who have not worked out in years start coming to workouts 5-6 days a week and often end up hurting themselves or being so sore that they can barely move. Another example of overreacting or overcompensating ... whatever you want to call it, it's not a measured adjustment to get on course, which is what we should be pursuing.
Did you know that an Apollo rocket is actually on course only two or three percent of the time? At least 97% of the time it takes to get from the earth to the moon, it’s off course. Put another way, for every half hour the ship is in flight, it is on course for less than sixty seconds. (Several internet NASA sources confirm this). If they were to make drastic swings, they would likely crash. Instead, they have a clear destination in mind and continually adjust, ever so slightly, to stay on course. I need to do more of that in my life. I haven't yet rolled my car 4 times, but I have certainly done some pretty stupid overcompensating. What about you?