Integrating timeless principles with modern research to transform mindsets and organizational cultures
- The alarm clock jolts you awake at 5:30 AM. For a fleeting second your mind is clear, but then dread of the 3 PM meeting overtakes you. Your back had been giving you trouble; you sigh as you feel it is still aching. “How am I going to get through this day?” is the question on your mind.
- In the shower you rehearse scenarios for your 3 PM meeting. You anticipate, “Robert is certain to say .… but, I’ll be ready for him.”
- Driving in, the highway is crowded as usual. You are in the right lane; and just as your exit is coming up, the driver in the middle lane signals to get in front of you. “Think you’re getting off ahead of me?” you mutter as you speed up, feeling a small sense of victory.
- You nod at your administrative assistant who smiles with “good morning.” You mumble hello as you head straight to your desk, no time for chit-chat.
- Every email you open screams “urgent.” Your frustration mounts as you realize that “urgent” is crowding out the real work that is needed to address the long-term success of your organization.
- A coworker offers you a doughnut. Hesitating, you think you’ll pass, but then accept the small comfort and tell yourself, “I won’t have one tomorrow.”
- It is time to walk down the hall to talk with an ally before the 3PM meeting. You listen to gossip about others who will be there and add your own complaints. Together you go down the list, noting who will get in the way of your objectives and who will support you.
- During the meeting, you make judgements about who is worth listening to so that you can respond to advance your position. After the meeting, you complain to your allies about others “wasting your time” in meetings. You do not hear the person who tells another how he’d felt bullied.
- Arriving back home, your partner is upset and wants to talk. You think, “Your day could not have been as demanding as mine” and try to change the subject.
- After dinner, you get edgy as, again, you have to give instructions on how to load the dishwasher. Television distracts you for a while; but when you finally go to bed, your mind is still going over the events of the day.
The ten stops along the way of this crappy day have one thing in common: To the one who lives this day, it seems like the irritants, delays, and obstacles that caused this crappy day were all coming from the outside. This person is experiencing the day through an outside-in mindset.
This outside-in mindset fills our head with useless thinking that causes us to be more reactive and less effective. The quality of our interactions plummets as we experience our colleagues through the filter of our busy mind.
Look back at stop 4: Choosing to not connect with the administrative assistant. Stuck in an outside-in mindset, we ignore others when our heads are filled with thinking about ourselves. When our mind is not in the grip of an outside-in mindset, our state of presence increases. In a state of presence, we naturally connect with others.
Consider stop 10 again: Wanting to be right about even small things, like loading the dishwasher. Our urge to be right fuels thinking that someone else is wrong. Recall a time when you offered “instructions” from an outside-in mindset. How grateful did the other feel to receive your help? When our mind is not preoccupied with being right, there is room for harmony to arise.
An outside-in mindset will always lead to us into the mind traps that are the real cause of our crappy days. The antidote is not to stop thinking or to change our thinking. If you have ever tried to do either, you know that’s very difficult.
But it is possible to understand the nature of our thinking, and a little understanding changes everything.
Before the era of 24/7 cable television, broadcast networks shut down overnight. If you fell asleep in front of the television, you would wake up to see a snowy static pattern on the TV screen. You didn’t try to adjust the reception, the static told you there was no signal coming through; you simply shut off the television.
The forms your useless thinking takes may be different from mine, but we are all the same. Moment by moment we have the option to take seriously our useless thinking. How would your life change if you understood that the useless thinking that swirls around in your head contains no more valuable information than the snowy static on an old television?
Here is the critical point to understand about an outside-in mindset: We will take seriously the static in our head when we justify our crappy thinking by believing it is cause by external circumstances.
The truth is, our crappy day feelings are the consequence of useless thinking that we’re taking seriously. If you’re feeling angry at your coworker or a fellow human being driving her car in the next lane, those angry feelings say little about the situation that you’re in. Although it seems we are justified in responding to external circumstances, our thinking is playing tricks on us.
Change begins when we interpret crappy feelings as signals, warning us that it is time to become aware of our useless thinking. The static in our head contains more information about our thinking than it does about external circumstances. If we continue to process our staticky thinking we are as silly as a person sitting in front of the TV, analyzing the snowy pattern on the screen.
Behind each crappy day, there is a moment when we decide to honor the static in our head by taking it seriously. We generate our own crappy day.
Consider this: How much bandwidth is left in a mind burdened by staticky thinking? At the end of the day, it is no wonder we arrive home stressed and feeling we accomplished nothing that mattered.
Today, be alert to catch yourself each time you blame external circumstances for a crappy experience; it is a warning that you’ve slipped into an outside-in mindset. Make the choice to take your staticky thinking less seriously. As you take it less seriously, the static will begin to fade away, and you’ll gain clarity.
No longer believing that our thinking is caused by others, new thinking will effortlessly begin to replace the static in our mind. As new thinking replaces that static, we will be more responsive to what life is asking of us at the moment. A happier, less stressful, more productive day will unfold. The real you will emerge.
Bye, bye crappy day.
My workshops help to change mindsets. Listening to the static in our heads is a habitual response to life caused by a misunderstanding about where our experiences are coming from. Imagine how the culture of your organization would shift as you and your colleagues no longer honored the static in their heads. Contact me to find out how we can work together. My book The Inner-Work of Leadership is another resource.