I’ve professed a certain “rule” for a long time now: Put your attention on what you & your team want more of. Take your focus off the current, unwanted realities.
In other words, stop telling yourself, “we don’t trust each other”; “they are so negative”; “this project is not going well. I knew it wouldn’t.” The only purpose these thoughts serve, is to keep you right where you are – in this case, a low trust, negative, unproductive environment.
Wise people throughout the ages have understood this:
“As he thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.” – James Allen, from As a Man Thinketh
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford
“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind.” – Buddha
Last week, I was offsite with a team and, as is often the case, current thinking patterns were holding the group “stuck” from moving forward in the way they said they wanted.
A contrast in the group dynamic presented itself, and became quite palpable.
When the group focused on what they wanted more of, there was high engagement in the room. Teammates conversed in a way that was forward looking, life-giving, and creative. There was a hopefulness in their communication that was open, energetic, and expectant of new possibilities.
When the group focused on their frustrations, the problems they were experiencing, broken processes, and what’s not working, their energy shifted dramatically. The experience of the contrast filled the room. Many felt it. A few commented on it: “feels like we just hit a wall” “feels like the energy just got sucked out of the room.”
Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience?
Let’s look at 3 TRUTHS – scientific evidence – as to why this phenomenon occurs:
- Our brain’s primary organizing principle is based on moving “away from threat” and moving “toward reward.” We are continuously and unconsciously categorizing EVERYTHING in our environment as either a threat or a reward.
- When our brain tells us “threat,” that old automatic fight or flight mechanism kicks in.
- Fight = defend, justify, counter-attack, criticize, blame, etc
- Flight = shut down, avoid eye contact, change the subject, leave the room, etc
- Problem-centric, disempowering language (we can’t, we never, she always, it’s not going to work, we’ve tried this before…) is threat language. Therefore we often feel a very deep, very old, very habitual, and very stuck energy.
- The brain has a super-efficient habit-center, or data-bank, that tells us how to respond and behave in familiar situations, to familiar messages, to familiar tasks. The brain also has “working memory” which takes in new, unfamiliar information and works to make sense of it. The difference in capacity between these two parts of our brain is like the difference between the MILKY WAY and a CUBIC METER (respectively).
- So what? We have limited capacity for taking in and working with new ideas, new possibilities, unfamiliar situations. In other words, for change. We must go forward very carefully and intentionally when desiring change.
- Begin the change dialogue in a way that moves people Toward Reward. Researchers in the fields of neuroscience, emotional intelligence, and leadership, have demonstrated that people are many times more likely to move towards change when it is anchored to something personally rewarding:
- a compelling vision of a better future
- a set of resonant core values
- an environment that respects – first and foremost – our fundamental human needs for connection, positive relationship, respect, empathy, authenticity, and vulnerability. In fact, these needs are pretty much the opposite of how we behave when in “fight or flight” mode. Fight or flight has us disengage, disconnect, retreat into ourselves, hold back, self-protect, and is anchored in fear and ego.
Your interactions with others (and with YOURSELF) will be productive and satisfying when you keep intentionally focused on what IS desired, rather than on that which you no longer want.
Put your attention on what you want more of.
Take your focus off the current, unwanted realities.
These brain-based facts apply to all areas of our lives, large and small. Small shifts in our word choice, our phrasing, our focus of attention – and especially our thoughts – can lead to dramatic results, whether you’re fostering a new company culture or talking to your teenager. Keep pointed towards reward.
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