24 March 2010

You Can't Change Anything You Hate

Excerpt from Get Storied, 15 March 2010

'Change is the new business as usual.

It seems everywhere I turn I see a world in flux, in change, under seismic shift. Its easy to feel like you don’t know what’s the real ground you stand on. Because the old ways of doing, the old ways of navigating, and the old ways of communicating – are past their expiration date.

Like me, I bet you’re really curious about the process of change. I hope you’ve read Dan and Chip Heath’s latest book Switch...

They introduce a wonderful metaphor that they carry throughout the book: the rider, the elephant, and the path. The rider is our conscious mind – it tries to direct the show. The elephant is our unconscious and emotional landscape which really runs the show. The path is just that, and you need to have a sense of which direction to steer the elephant...

Switch offers great context for one of my own personal axioms: “you can’t change anything you hate.” Think about that. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, deal with someone’s behavior, or change the way your company does business, negative emotion is the deal-breaker. Considering I’ve put back on those extra twenty pounds in the last few months, I’m still working on this one. We’ve become a culture of self-righteous indignation – whether that’s yelling at your spouse for not washing the dishes or yelling at some part of society that needs to act in a different way. When are we going to realize that “s/he who yells loudest doesn’t win?”

When you communicate or frame your change story from a place of anger, fear, or judgment – you’re triggering the reptilian part of the brain in the mind of your audience. We’ve all heard of “fight or flight”, its a basic survival mechanism. By challenging your audience and pointing out their flaws, they will respond in one of two ways – (1) fight: who the hell are you to tell me!?…, or (2) flight: you stick your head in the sand and look the other way. Either way, the very thing you’re trying to change has been activated and triggered to preserve its survival. If you turn to judgment, you’ll have a much harder time getting the change to stick.

In my storytelling manifesto Believe Me I explore this idea further:

In any given situation, a dominant story already exists. Who controls this story? It might be your biggest competitor, a recognized adversary, or the established social norm. You need to crack the existing code before you can socialize your own story into reality.

The trick is not to confront or challenge the status quo head-on. Rarely does anything productive emerge from gruesome hand-to-hand combat. And yet so many people trying to effect change or innovation prepare themselves for battle.

The moment you question and challenge someone else’s beliefs, the debate is over—before it’s even started. You must instead nurture and seduce your new story’s acceptance. Do not judge or negate the established storylines. They have played an important role serving the social order. Perhaps, the old story has outgrown its utility or relevance, which is why your new story can find fertile ground. Just look for the cracks where new flowers can sprout and blossom.

Whatever constraints you perceive in the existing market are usually connected to the old story. Look for the bigger story—the more universal human story that cuts across old boundaries, limits, and categories. Break free from mental slavery and you’ve completely redefined the problem. With this shift in perspective, the solution is often much easier to achieve.

Instead of engaging the reptilian brain, connect at the limbic level, the sphere of emotion. Psychologists say there are two basic emotions; fear and love. When your story engages people from a place of love and acceptance, a new kind of relationship is possible.

Here’s a new term for you – “emotional overhead”. Got it from my new friend Jerry Michalski. What a great word, Jerry! If you’re feeling exhausted, my guess is its probably more emotional than physical. Whenever we go through change, and part of us is resisting the process (we’re scared, uncomfortable, feeling judged, etc…), it creates piles of stress. I usually feel it as big giant pillars of concrete on my shoulders. All that stress is expressed as emotional overhead. It drags us down, it makes us tired, it limits our sense of possibility.

You can’t be in the flow, when you’re overwhelmed with emotional overhead. Lets be honest, we don’t do such a good job of acknowledging, much less releasing all that emotional overhead. And all that weight is quite demanding. It often shows up as the urge to eat that whole pint of ice cream, order that extra cocktail, play with one’s crackberry, spend six hours at the gym…

Emotions are simply calling for our attention. The more we ignore them, the louder they’ll start yelling, kicking, and screaming. How much are emotions in charge of your life?

Consider your sources of stress. Its usually either you worrying about the past or fretting about the future. If you are truly present, in the moment; and I mean really present, most stress melts away. If you can change your relationship with the past and the future, you can accomplish anything. That’s something for all of us to practice. I know I can be so busy doing all the time, that I forget the being part of the equation. Its in the process of being, that the obsessive chains of attachment start to loosen. Now just consider, the story implications!

...Learning how to re-story your situation or your organization is a fundamental process in releasing emotional overhead. All that emotion is what weights us down. If you can create more space and lower all those drag co-efficients, you’ll be ready to step if not leap into your new story.'

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