You are the author of your life – Chalmers Brothers
I recently heard Chalmers Brothers speak about his book Language and the Pursuit of Happiness. The way we observe ourselves dictates how we live as well as our perception of the world. Something else Chalmers said was that the “explanation is not equal to the event”. The USA loses to Belgium in the World Cup. That is the event. My explanation might be, “But they made it to the group of 16”. Your explanation might be that Tim Howard (the goalie with a record 16 saves) is the only worthwhile player on the team. A Belgian’s explanation might be that it was preordained. Same event, different explanations and obviously, different perceptions.
We can get so blinded by our perspective, that if we never question our beliefs, we start to confuse it with reality. Let that sink in for a minute; we confuse it with reality. I can remember when I was a restaurant owner some twenty years ago. The brothers that sold me the restaurant, wanted to sell me another. I did some number crunching and figured that at the pace the sales were dropping there was no way to make a profit. When I went back to the brother’s to explain this, they were dumbfounded. They had for some 20 years run a profitable restaurant chain; never in their wildest dreams did they ever predict that sales would go down instead of up. This idea was WAY out of their paradigm. Well, of course, after about a year, their last remaining restaurant eventually failed. The story they were writing was not equal to the event.
So how do you improve your explanation…or change the way you write your story? Here are some ideas:
1. Language. Think about the language you use. I recently had a client who said “Fat people can’t wear stripes” referring to himself. I said “I’m curious about fat, tell me more?” Him, “Hmmm. That was mean. I wouldn’t call anyone else fat.” Me, “How does it make you feel?” Him, “Horrible”. Think about your self-talk. What language are you using? If you wouldn’t call your assistant, boss or spouse – lazy, stupid, dumb or ugly, maybe it’s time to switch up the language you use.
2. Observer. Be the observer. An executive I coached last year had a huge breakthrough when he realized that he had to be the observer when it came to conflict. So if he was pushing back on a deadline at work or negotiating on a car, he was much more effective if he could mentally take a step back and observe. It helped him disconnect from his primal reaction of fight or flight. When he was the observer he was less tied to explanation of the event. He could listen, observe and detach. Stand outside of yourself and observe the landscape. You will soon have a totally different perspective that may serve you better.
3. Grand Illusion. Chalmers posits that we all think that everyone else sees events from the same perspective; as he calls it – “the Grand Illusion”. I have experienced this in many of the companies I’ve worked for. We roll out the new plan and expect immediate buy-in because the higher-ups think that the entire company sees their perspective i.e. the potential results; whether they be long-term or short. In their eyes the rationale and long term benefits from the new plan are self-evident. Quite often, they are not. Most employees see any change in the organization as a bad thing and frequently jump to the conclusion that their job is potentially at stake. Don’t assume everyone sees the event from the same perspective; it’s nothing but an illusion, the Grand Illusion.
4. Serving. Is your thought serving you to the end result you want? If you are interviewing for a new job and go in with the thought that you’ll never get this job….uh…well…you probably won’t. If you present the new initiative to your boss with the attitude that you will succeed; odds are you will. I’ve seen so many folks go into an exam and when asked, “Do you think you will pass?” They answer, “I’m not sure; probably not.” It’s the old adage, expect the worst and hope for the best. You don’t want to be overly confident because – What? You might actually succeed? It is easier to explain failure this way. “Yeah, I knew I would never pass”. Think about how your thoughts are not serving you and the results you want.
5. Listening. Chalmers says that listening is not hearing. I get caught up on this one frequently. I can ask my son a question like, “When are you going to Charleston?” and then forget about listening to the response. I can hear him just fine but I’m not registering the answer. Most likely my phone just went off with some kind of notification that 99% of the time is meaningless. I frequently listen to audio books and there may be some passage that sends my thoughts off in a different direction like…sleep is important…yeah I need to get more sleep…I’ll tell you who needs more sleep is my son…maybe I should get him to listen to this book…forget it, he won’t…he never listens to me…uh…what was that last passage? …was it something important….should I back it up…wait I’m driving that’s not a good idea…that causes accidents…I don’t want to be a statistic…sheesh…did they just say something about REM sleep….and so on. It can be difficult to pay attention with a ticker tape going off in your head. Stop the distractions. Turn off the phone, or the radio, or your computer monitor and be present. What’s more important here…when your son leaves for Charleston or a Facebook notification….I thought so. No one ever says hear up…it’s listen up.
6. Shift. Look for paradigm shifts. Look for opposing viewpoints. My father has always famously said he went to Korea a Democrat and came back a Republican. I’m not suggesting you enlist in the army or travel to Korea but you can seek out different sources. Different explanations. Test your beliefs. When you have an array of explanations available it’s much easier to not be as tied to the interpretation. If you disagree with the direction the Accounting department is going, go ask some questions that will prove you wrong. “Can you tell me again what the advantages are of the new XYZ system? And how much time is this going to cut from Month-End?” Look for the shift. Every good book has a shift. The hero finally decides to take on the dragon. So what shift do you need to make to challenge your beliefs?
So imagine the book you are authoring. Is it an adventure? Is it a drama? Or a comedy? The amazing thing is that you are holding the pen. You get to create whatever you want so choose wisely.