Put your onions in the freezer

February 18, 2011 at 7:37 am 18 comments


MIRIAM: Oh, Barney, put it in the freezer.
BARNEY: What?
MIRIAM: Put the onion in the freezer for a few minutes before you chop it. Then it won’t make you cry.

Barney’s Version, 2010

People love pain. Christina Harbridge of Allegory Training once told me “people naturally do what’s in their worst interest.” Sad, but true.

A few weeks ago I went to see Barney’s Version with my girlfriend. I’m a fan of Paul Giamatti so I expected a great performance. Even still the movie was beyond my expecations. Terrific piece of work and I highly recommend it.

A great scene comes about halfway through when Barney (Giamatti) is cutting an onion in the kitchen with onion-induced tears streaming down his face. His wife, Miriam, comes into the kitchen and feeds him some classic advice: if you put an onion in the freezer before cutting it, then you’ll be tear free. Barney seems amazed and impressed by this discovery. However, a few scenes later, we find Barney chopping onions again, still crying…he didn’t do the freezer trick.

How many times do we find ourselves in the situation where we know how to stop the pain, but for some reason we go with what we know, even if we know it’s the wrong choice?

A former colleague articulated the business version of this to me a few years ago: “It’s like we’ve lost our keys, and we know we left them in the kitchen, but we keep checking the garage because the light’s on out there and it’s just easier.” Classic line. There was so much truth there.

While working with Jim Collins I found that, in most cases, this type of corporate behavior wasn’t an issue of vision, but rather one of execution…or maybe just the willingness to execute.

The trick: create a stop doing list. These serve as a consistent reminder of specific actions that hinder our advancement. They fight against our natural inclination to stick with comfortable, rather than successful, behaviors. Jim talks about it here, and it works wonders.

The common practice for building strategies for work (or for life) is to write down a plan of what action we have to take to hit our objectives. Makes sense. The problem is that this has strong potential to tack additional responsibilities on top of previous bad habits. Not a recipe for sustainable success. A stop doing list forces you to be explicit in what you’re no longer doing so that you can focus on, and likely achieve, your new goals.

Try it with yourself, and try it with your team. They will appreciate you taking some work off their plate, especially in cases where that work is no longer relevant. It’s a great exercise with huge payoffs.

Be SMaC (Systematic, Methodical and Consistent) with your stop doing lists. This way you can throw your onions in the freezer and clear some space for more rewarding behaviors.

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18 Comments Add your own

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    I see this all the time in the world of trading. People, for whatever reason, love to ride losing trades and will watch their losing position until they have little to no money left. On the flip side, they like to limit their potential profit by getting out quickly when they see any kind of profit.
    I just want to scream STOP THE BLEEDING, PROTECT YOURSELF. Professionals know how to manage themselves, their egos, and thus their trades. They’ll have written strategies and will implement them will precession every time – not letting the emotion dictate their strategy.

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About Me

I'm a San Francisco-based strategic thinker who believes that life is only as great as the people you choose to interact with. I love people, and studying business has given me greater insight into how to most effectively develop myself, and my personal relationships. I look forward to discussing people and business with those that find this area as fascinating as I do.

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