So many clients call me because they are in pain: the pain of low productivity, the pain of disgruntled employees, the pain of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, etc. All of that pain is what gets me in the door. At the same time, goals that are focused on ending pain often reflect an enervated client and an enervated organization, which dramatically slows the change process. Have you ever interviewed a group of folks who are past anger and are into resignation? Their affect is flat; they don’t believe that any change is possible. Many tell me stories of other consultants who have come and gone while making no difference at all.
To mitigate such circumstances, I need to help my clients and the others involved create for themselves personal and organizational visions that generate the positive energy of enthusiasm and excitement! One of my favorite ways of creating positive possibilities is to get a conversation going about what they believe they could accomplish when the pain is gone. This requires some patience and persistence, but it really helps. Another tactic I find to be useful is to encourage the person I’m working with to consciously use the current situation as an opportunity and help them to identify a meaningful support system that affords a more positive outlook.
Whatever your strategies and tactics, helping your clients move from negative energy to positive energy is an important skill. It is a skill that starts with choosing for ourselves a positive outlook. I’ve worked with a few internal practitioners who felt that certain changes within their organization were hopeless. Those practitioners have essentially rendered themselves ineffective. So we are back to our very first discipline: conscious use of self. If we can’t manage our own belief systems we won’t do very well helping our clients to manage theirs!
Click here to read part 1 from last week
Sometimes choosing different behavior is all we need. Other times we know what we should do, but find ourselves not following through.
Imagine that my team has told me to stop accepting conflictual behavior and start holding folks accountable for improving productivity—which I had previously agreed to do, but never did. To change my problematic behavior I need to notice what emotions and thoughts come up when an opportunity to follow-through arises. I notice that I become anxious when I think about disciplining a member of my team. When I ask myself what I’m anxious about, I realize that I’m afraid of being thought of as unfair and that I won’t be liked anymore. Hmm, interesting! Why don’t I just choose to stop feeling anxious and get on with what I know I need to do?
Most of us know that is easier said than done. I might have better success choosing to change my thought process to one that tells me that if I don’t start holding my folks accountable that I could lose my job. That could work. But, it leaves me in a state of conflict with myself—I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. What a mess. More stress.
Instead, I can ask myself: On what beliefs are my thoughts based? As I look to see what they might be I notice a series of related beliefs:
1. I must be liked to feel good about myself.
2. To be liked I must be seen as fair.
3. The perceptions of other people are more important than my perception of myself.
I believe those things because that’s how my world worked when I was a kid. When my parents seemed to like me they did things that I liked. And, they always seemed unhappy with me when they told me I was being unfair even when I didn’t think I was being unfair. Now I ask myself: How applicable and/or useful are those beliefs to my current situation and goals? The answer, of course, is not very.
This gives me the opportunity to consciously and intentionally choose a set of beliefs that are based on the sound and current data of the present where I am an adult, not a child. I can choose to believe that holding my team members accountable for working with each other supportively will result in increased productivity! And a more pleasant working environment will increase their respect for me. And, if they respect me more they will even like me more.
Besides, my self-esteem need not be dependent on their liking me. I can choose to approve of myself rather than depend solely on others approving of me.
Behavior (Action) is driven by our emotions – our vehicle of motivation. What we don’t care about, we don’t do. The caring might be in the form of joy, anger, fear, or love. They are all emotions without which we do much of nothing.
Emotions are driven by our thoughts, which we use to make meaning of the events in which we are involved. The meaning we make may not or may reflect the actual nature of the event depending on our automatic interpretations and assumptions. Often our interpretations and assumptions sufficiently match sound and current data and are useful. However, in situations that are important to us do we want to trust “often?”
Thoughts are driven by our beliefs. If I believe that my thoughts (including the meaning that I make of an event) reflect the actuality without the need for further checking, I increase the probability of having my emotional response and subsequent behavior be off target. Of course, with such a belief we will also believe that our being off target is not our fault but is that of somebody or something else.
Beliefs are based on a combination of what we’ve learned from past experience, what we’ve been socialized to believe by our caretakers, teachers, friends, and society in general, plus whatever we invent as truth. A highly problematic belief is that they (my beliefs) represent the reality of the present. Such a belief will effectively prevent the taking in or use of sound and current data.
Each of our behaviors, emotions, thoughts, and beliefs is a choice point reflecting a level of possible mastery of conscious use of self. Mastery at the level of behavior—where our emotions, thoughts, and beliefs may be incongruent with our behavior—is a general (though often misplaced) expectation of adults in our society. Mastery at the level of emotions and thought is often the province of healthy adults who have done their share of introspection, personal growth and often therapy. Mastery at the level of beliefs is akin to wisdom calling for understanding that our egos and minds are not who we are, whose dictates we must follow, but simple tools for our full selves to use at conscious choice.
As we move toward deeper and deeper levels of conscious choice about how we use ourselves, we will be more and more able to behave in such a manner that the systems within which we wish to live and manage change will respond to us in ways consonant with our goals and intentions.
Conscious use of self, described in our previous blog, calls for learning how to be aware of and direct our beliefs, our emotions, our thoughts, and our behavior. These are the primary points of choice that allow us to consciously manage ourselves. The choices we make at those points directly impact how well we manage or create change in our personal or organizational worlds.
Unfortunately, most of us normal human beings have only begun to develop full command of these tools of self. Most of us respond automatically to many situations where our goals would be better served by greater awareness and consciousness about how we are using our selves. Our automatic or habitual reactions are based on responses that were successful in some (generally unconscious, often childhood-based) past experiences. However, when applied too broadly and unconsciously to current situations, we find that the impact of too many of our behaviors fall far from our desired results.
How we use ourselves in one situation may or may not be very effective in another, though similar, situation. Over reliance on past experience is a significant pitfall to the flexibility we need to effectively work our way through today’s world of constant change. To gain this needed flexibility a deeper understanding of the choice points is useful.
Every action we take is directed by some combination of emotions and thoughts. Those emotions and thoughts are directed by our database of beliefs. The database is constructed from conclusions from past experiences, socializations (Edie says, “We’ve been duped by society”), and ideas of our own invention. For example, imagine that I want members of a team for which I am responsible to decrease the time they spend in conflict and increase their productivity. First, I need to determine what I’m doing (my actions, my behavior) that is contributing to the way things are rather than what I want, and what I could do that would work better. To find that out, I ask my team’s members. If they get that my curiosity is genuine, they’ll tell me. Now, I can consciously choose the behaviors that work rather than those that don’t.
Part 2 to be continued next week
There is not much of any significance that we can accomplish by ourselves. Whether it is a project at work or wanting to enjoy our time with others in our personal lives, we must successfully connect with others. Of course, there are those with whom we find it easy to connect, such as those who already know us and accept us, and those who are much like us. This includes those who may be of like minds, beliefs, attitudes, and histories as well as those who are like us politically, spiritually, racially, ethnically, and gender- and sexual preference-wise.
Prior to the 1960’s we tended to live and work with folks like ourselves, and connecting with others was relatively easy (not withstanding the occasional argument we might have with co-workers, friends, and family). However, since the 60’s we increasingly find ourselves socially and vocationally with others quite different from ourselves. Out of habit—on automatic—we tend to be uncomfortable with such a load of differences. Accordingly, we tend to try to avoid them, ignore them, convert them, suppress or oppress them, or fight with them.
Of course, it is the latter that is behind the conflicts that populate our lives and world regarding any of the differences already noted. Team conflict from such differences can compromise organizational performance. In the same manner conflict over differences in personality preferences can hamper marital harmony.
Being on automatic in these ways serves neither my ability to grow as a person, to enhance the productivity of the teams where I might encounter those differences, nor my ability to contribute to peace on this planet. Instead, I might consciously choose to make different options:
- I might intentionally and deliberately choose to believe that being uncomfortable is OK. I’ve been uncomfortable before and survived it just fine!
- While being uncomfortable, I might choose to be curious about you and others who are different from me. I might even be interested and appreciative of who you are and what you share with me—none of which requires me to agree with you!
- Finally, I might learn something. I might learn something about you and what you have to say. But, mostly I might learn something about me that might make me a better person.
We can choose to be conscious of our ability to consciously connect across those differences we use to make ourselves uncomfortable. Accordingly, we would empower ourselves to mitigate and alleviate suppression, oppression, and conflict on behalf of learning, harmony, and peace at home, at work, and in the world!
Have you ever intended to do one thing – like exercise more or spend more time with your kids – and done another? Or, maybe, you intended to stop doing something that you kept on doing – like not paying your bills on time or driving someone away when you want to be close to them? More often than we might like we find ourselves behaving in ways that are contrary to our personal or professional well-being. I know, the devil made you do it!
At these times the unconscious, automatic part of ourselves is driving our behavior rather than our conscious selves. Accordingly, intention is a primary aspect of conscious use of self when our automatic behavior is getting us other than what we want or would be good for us.
But what to do about it? Of course, several books have been (and still could be) written about such dilemmas. For the purpose of this blog, however, we will briefly explore a basic five-step process that can often be helpful without having to spend money on a therapist.
Here they are:
- Slow down! Not easy, but we’re not talking about doing easy things.
- Write down a description of the automatic behavior that you want to change, along with the behavior that you consciously intend. Occasionally, this step is all that you need. If it is insufficient go to Step 3.
- Write down the emotions, the feelings, that accompany the automatic behavior.
- Write down the thoughts that drive or justify that emotion. If you can change your thoughts, you will change the emotion, and that will allow you to change your behavior. Often our thoughts are not based on sound and current data and are amenable to change once we check out the information upon which our thoughts are based. If that doesn’t work go to the next step.
- Write the beliefs that underlie your thoughts. Notice if that belief is useful to your conscious intention. If it isn’t, what belief or beliefs might be more useful? Changing beliefs that are not useful is a transformational process that is not easy, but it is extremely powerful.
Give it a try and remember that practice makes perfect.
For more in-depth discussion about Conscious Use of Self and practice in replacing automatic actions with intended actions, check out this module, Conscious Use of Self: Where It All Starts.