Jedi Mind Tricks for Urban Planning Leaders

This post is not about how to deceive others in getting your new transit line, road widening, or bike lane. This post is how to change YOUR OWN mindset to be more effective in accomplishing your goals and contributing to your community.

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.

-Marcus Aurelius

Be curious, not furious. When you meet opposition from the public, elected officials, or engineers, be aware of the emotions that come up and switch your mindset from being upset, to genuinely curious about why that person is opposing your initiative, project, or idea. Sometimes you may just be misinterpreting what the other person is saying and clarification can help. You may even find out you both are saying the same thing, just using different language! Other times they may actually be opposing it and it’s critical you understanding why because it is an opportunity for your initiative, project, or plan to evolve and improve. This takes powerful listening skills and thoughtful questions in order to really understand the person’s perception and understanding.

They’re calling your baby ugly. It can be extremely challenging to take critical feedback of our own project, plan, idea, or initiative. As Urban planning leaders, we put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into our projects and see it as our baby. We may have created it, put in hours to develop it, refined it, and started all over again to make it “perfect”. We get emotionally tied to its success (or failure) because we know that emotion creates motivation and progress. So when someone gives us critical, yet honest feedback, we may perceive it as a threat to our own ability, lack of understanding, or just downright cruel. Since this project is like our baby, we must protect it at all costs, and defend. However, if you can’t receive feedback in a constructive manner, learn from it, and respond constructively, then you don’t grow and your idea, project, or plan doesn’t improve.

Focus on the message, not the delivery. One strategy to better receive feedback is to focus on the message of the provider rather than the technique they provide it. For example, I was completing a slide deck for a bridge rehabilitation project to be presented to elected officials and I asked my boss for tips on effectively delivering material to elected officials. Instead of giving me general tips (what I was looking for) he dove into the details of the presentation and began providing specific feedback on specific words and content. At first, I was frustrated because he didn’t answer my question in a delivery I wanted, such as “here are the 5 general tips when presenting to elected officials”. However, I remembered to focus on the message he was sending, rather than focus on how he was delivering it, and realized he did gave me a general tip. Remove technical jargon from the presentation! When someone may seem to be upset when providing you feedback, try to really listen to what they are saying, rather than how they are saying it.

Check out my post 5 Tips to Brief Elected Officials on your Project for more info!

Focus on what you can control. I was recently introduced to Stoicism, a philosophy dating back to the 3rd century BC that focuses on self-control and to accept the world around, even if its painful. As a planner, it is difficult to know what will come next, and therefore uncertainty provides a challenging environment to know where to put your resources and time. Therefore, focus on improving and growing yourself, since this is the one thing you can control.

Developing Goals for Growth

It’s that time of year when people are buying gym memberships and running early in the morning because of their New Years resolutions. By February, the gym is back to its normal numbers of people and people are again wondering why they couldn’t follow their resolutions. How can urban planners develop the right resolutions to actually make an impact to their communities? First, change the vocabulary and develop goals, not resolutions.

Goals are one of the most important tools for people to improve their cities to be more equitable, environmentally friendly, economically viable, etc. Without goals, people can work endlessly without working towards something of meaning or significance. In the end, when things get tough and/or tedious, the hard work dwindles, frustration takes over, and people spend their time waiting for Friday. Goals give direction and have a powerful affect on productivity and fulfillment. So how can you create goals that lead to success?

Start with purpose. Why are you in the business in improving your city, community, or region? Use Toyoda’s technique and ask yourself why 5 times. This will help determine why you are an urban planner or why you want to improve communities, or why you want to help people. Give it a try.

Without goals, people can work endlessly without working towards something of meaning or significance.

Align goals to your values. Does this goal mean something to you? Is it in tune with what matters most to you? The goal may not initially seem like it is, however try to make a connection with your goal. For example, my goal is to save $17K by July. Initially this may sounds bland and not motivating, however I connected this goal to be financially wealthy so I can preserve land for people to enjoy nature and build a camp to connect kids to nature. It now has much more meaning to me personally and emotionally and I’m much more committed to achieving it.

Be specific. It’s OK to start with a vague goal, but work to create a specific goal that defines the actions needed to achieve the vague goal. For example, my vague goal was to start a website that improves leadership in urban planners. This was a good start, however there wasn’t something specific for me to determine if I achieved that goal or not. Now, my goal is to write 52 posts for the year, or 1 post each week by Sunday night. This may not improve leadership if the posts are garbage, however it gets me started to put content on this site for you the reader to benefit from. Determine if your goals are habit goals or achievement goals. Michael Hyatt introduced me to the concept that some goals are habits (daily, weekly, quarterly, etc.), or some have an end result.

Make it fun. Research has shown (see below for info) that when people working on their goals feel a sense of enjoyment, although tough and difficult, they are more likely to achieve them. When making your goals specific, figure out an activity that you will enjoy doing that will bring your goals closer. For example, I enjoy reading, and to help achieve writing 1 post each week, I use the content from my reading into my posts. You can find a way to make your goal fun by using creativity and resourcefulness.

Make them measurable. When will you achieve your goal? How can you incorporate numbers to your goal? This helps determine if you actually achieved your goals and evaluate during your execution how close you are to achieving goal and if there is something you need to reevaluate. Without some sort of measurement, I find myself wondering if I’m achieving my goal or not.

So what are you goals for 2019? Leave them comments so I can tailor my website to provide content and resources for you!

You can find more info on goals and where I learned some of these tips on my goals page.