Imagine that software you’ve relied on for years stops working for you.
You notice that it has been freezing up a lot. At first, it didn’t really bother you. But now these little glitches are happening so often that you’re having trouble getting things done.
When you look into the problem, you find you are not the only one that has been experiencing it. Much to your relief, a new version of the program is being rolled out that has fixed all the bugs. And happily, this updated program is now available for you to download.
The same thing happens to each of us.
We are cruising along doing what we’ve always done only to find it just isn’t working so well anymore. We aren’t getting the results we wanted. Or worse, what worked before is actually causing new problems. And despite our best efforts, these problems are throwing a big monkey wrench in things.
So how do you find a bug in your program?
First, you start by recognizing that you aren’t getting the results you want. And then you work backward. Finding the bug in your program requires that you detach from your actions in such a way that you can observe and evaluate them.
One way to do this is to replay events in your mind to identify any causal factors.
You can do this in the car on the way home from work as you mentally review the day’s events and evaluate what went well and what didn’t. You can journal about it. Or you can talk with someone who is an objective third party, like a friend, family member, mentor or coach.
The bug in your program is almost always a knee jerk reaction.
Knee jerk reactions are the product of conditioning—what happens when a behavior becomes so automatic that you no longer need to think about it. And conditioning is good when it leads you to behave in a way that is constructive—like when you practice a new skill over and over again until you can do it without having to remind yourself of each step.
But conditioning that leads you to spring into action when what you really need to do is give a little more consideration to your response can get you into trouble.
There is a neurobiological component to conditioning.
Every time you practice something or respond to a stimulus in a certain way, you are creating neural networks in your brain. Neurons that fire together wire together. And the more they fire, the stronger and more automatic their connections (and your behaviors) get. Conversely, when a neural network is interrupted or not used for a certain period of time, these connections begin to weaken.
Once you have identified the bug, you can begin to eliminate it.
Simply being aware of a knee jerk reaction will begin to loosen its grip on you. This is not to say that someone could instantaneously eradicate a bug and immediately improve his or her results. It takes time. Awareness is half the battle.
Initially, errors are not caught until after the fact, but with increased awareness and attention, you can notice them sooner and sooner. The time it takes to realize blunders drops from hours to minutes, and, with continued diligence, you’re able to take steps to correct them in real time. Ultimately, you can get to the point where you can prevent yourself from engaging in this automatic reaction altogether.
As the bug is eliminated, the program can be upgraded.
Upgrading the program is a matter of replacing an old behavior with a new one. Unlike software upgrades, this one doesn’t isn’t a matter of a simple download. It requires attention, thought and persistence.
As mentioned previously, neural networks that correspond to old, undesirable patterns of behavior weaken when they are not engaged. And as they weaken, repeated practice allows new neural nets to be formed that support a more desirable behavior.
But doesn’t creating new neural networks require a huge amount of practice?
The interesting thing about the formation of these neural networks is that they do not have to happen in real time. Research has shown that mentally rehearsing a new pattern of behavior leads to the same growth in neural networks that physical practice does.
Really. If you replay the situation you wish you could have handled differently and “edit” your action to the desirable choice, you are literally rewiring your brain to act the correct way in the future.
Doing so will allow you to create and increasingly rely on new neural networks when in situations that necessitated different responses. Gradually, you are able to replace your tendency to demand compliance with a more thoughtful, respectful, and engaging approach to influencing others.
Let’s review the process of upgrading your internal programming:
- Step One: Find your bug. The first step is to recognize when you have a tendency to engage in behavior that keeps you from getting the results you desire. Most likely this will be a knee jerk reaction that propels you into action before you have a chance to think.
- Step Two: Disempower your bug. Becoming aware of behavior you fall into and the impact it has on your effectiveness ultimately weakens its hold on you because while it still may be automatic, it is no longer unconscious. Though falling into old patterns when you know better is frustrating, this awareness is a sign of tremendous progress.
- Step Three: Substitute a new program for the old one. As your old habits and the corresponding neural nets that lead you to engage in them begin to weaken, you can replace them with new behaviors. The more you practice these new behaviors (whether physically or mentally), the stronger the new neural networks and your new patterns will become. And the less you engage the old behaviors, the weaker and less prominent the old neural networks (and the corresponding behaviors) get.
If you find yourself engaging in behavior that is interfering with your effectiveness, the most important thing to remember is that you are not the program that is running it. You are the programmer. You have the ability to consciously choose the behaviors and the responses you have to any given stimulus.
Though interrupting and upgrading your internal programming takes time, the results will be well worth your effort. And the best part is that you don’t have to lodge a complaint with or rely on anyone but yourself in order to do it.
Now if only we could keep those darn devices from freezing up!
If you are interested in additional strategies for upgrading your internal programming so that you can access your very best performance, I encourage you to check out The Pinocchio Principle Unleashed: The Real Leader’s Guide to Accessing the Freedom & Flow of Your Authentic Genius an exclusive 13-week leadership development program kicking off the week of April 1st.
We all aim to develop good routines. But most of us have a few habits that cause problems too. Maybe it’s the way your temper flares when people don’t do what you want them to. Perhaps it’s a tendency to turn the other way when things get stressful – to go bury your head in the sand or find something to do that keeps you from having to address issues. Maybe it’s your inclination to take so many things on that you are running yourself ragged, or a habit of staying in your comfort zone instead of taking the bold leaps you dream about in your quiet hours.
Sometimes even good habits reach a point where they no longer serve you all that well, like the habit of diving into the details after you’ve just been made a leader of leaders who really needs to rely on others to do that for you. But we tend to hang onto those routine ways of doing things long after they have outlived their value. Not because they are particularly gratifying, but because they are comfortable and familiar.
Habits act as defaults. We do them without having to think much at all. They are ingrained behaviors that we revert to when things get stressful, and they have a way of taking over and putting us on autopilot.
There may come a time, though, when habits that never really used to be a problem start making some waves in your life. They may hurt your effectiveness on the job, or your ability to really connect with others. They could keep you playing small instead of really stepping into and realizing your potential and living your dreams. And sometimes they become painful.
I am a runner. I don’t train and sign up for marathons or anything. I just do it to clear my head and release tension – and because it makes me feel good. When I first started running, I just wanted to be able to go for awhile without getting too tired. I was happy when I managed to get off my butt and just get outside. Then I started to run a little longer. And then gradually a little faster.
But the more intensely I did things the way I had always done them, the more I began to notice that I was having pain. My hips hurt. My shins were stiff. There were periods where the discomfort became so intense that I had to lay off running for awhile until my body healed. And then I noticed it wasn’t long before I was having some kind of pain again. It was a little maddening.
Interestingly enough, one of my new clients, Nicole Armbrust, is a physical therapist who works with runners to improve efficiency and prevent injury. She encouraged me to have an assessment. I was a little hesitant. Really? Do I really want someone to tell me about all the things that I should be doing differently? Do I really want to change something that for the most part was making me feel so good? The next time I went running and began to feel that familiar stiffness that I knew would morph into throbbing later, I realized it was time for a change – even though I knew it would not necessarily be a comfortable one.
Nicole examined how my muscles and ligaments worked. She listened intently as I told her about my history and all my injuries. She videotaped me walking. And then running. And then she had me try some stretches and other exercises. Alas, many of the things I was afraid of were true. The strides I was taking were too long. I was landing on the wrong part of my foot. One of my hips was tighter than the other, causing me to overcompensate – which of course was adding to my injuries.
She gave me a metronome, which she believes will help correct a large percentage of my problems. Apparently, much of what I really need to do to correct 95% of my problems is run to a faster beat, which would lead me to take smaller strides and push off and land on the right parts of my feet.
The first time I tried it, I hated it. It was unnatural. And I couldn’t just slip into my zone and forget about what my body was doing. It was an effort to keep my feet hitting the ground that fast. And my faithful running buddy, a golden retriever named Bellissima, was thrown off too. “What the heck?” I could swear that was going through her head when she looked up at me with those big brown eyes of hers. I was right there with her.
But the more I practiced with that new way of doing things, the less pain I have had, and the faster I can run. I can run longer and more often. And I am enjoying myself again.
I think life is a little like that. Often we don’t seek help until things begin to hurt us. And though it’s kind of sad that we wait until things become painful to try something different – it is often just the springboard we need to find better ways of doing and being.
Maybe your last temper explosion led people to no longer want to support you, and you are ready to figure out ways of better channeling your anger. Perhaps the things you were avoiding came to a head in a less than optimal way that made things even more unpleasant and you want to keep that from happening again. Maybe you have totally burned yourself out and are starting to realize that there has to be a better way of doing things. Or perhaps the window of opportunity you have been carefully planning and preparing for closed before you dared to act on it and you’re tired of missing out.
When your habits begin to hurt you, you get to decide what you are going to do about them. It’s a crossroads that can be challenging – because though you might be experiencing pain and discomfort with your habit, it likely will seem as though anything you might need to do differently will be even worse. And that is the root of resistance.
But what I have found through my own experience, as well as that of so many others – friends, clients, colleagues – is that the pain caused by resistance is far worse than anything it would have you avoid.
Maybe you don’t need to wait until it comes to a head. We all have habits that no longer serve us. And you already likely know what habit (or habits) are bringing you down. So the question is, what are you going to do about it?
In my next post, I’ll write about how to change the habits that hurt you. If you want some support changing bad habits, you might want to consider working with a coach. For more information on executive and leadership coaching, visit https://dianebolden.com/coaching.html or or contact me to schedule a complimentary coaching call. And if you are more of a “do it yourselfer”, check out my new video program, On the Road to Real or pick up a copy of my book The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be, available at Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com.
Image courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Have you ever bought a piece of exercise equipment that ultimately became a place to hang your laundry? How about fresh vegetables that rotted at the bottom of your refrigerator while you ended up consuming fast food instead? Do you have any “how to” or personal/professional development books on your shelves that you never actually finished (or read at all)?
Sadly, I can answer yes to all of these questions. I also own more cookbooks than many gourmet chefs do – most of which have unfortunately never seen the light of my kitchen. It’s a mysterious phenomenon. I buy all of these things with good intentions, and it feels good to purchase them, as though I am one step closer to achieving some kind of goal for myself. But somewhere in the execution stage, things often go awry (or never go at all).
This is not unlike what many of my clients experience when they are in the midst of trying to make a change. They know what they want, and in some cases have read articles and books or attended classes to learn step by step processes – and even made some progress. But for whatever reason they often find themselves falling back into old patterns that keep them from achieving the success they seek.
Perhaps it is a leader in the midst of trying to be more strategic that gets sucked into doing operational tasks that should really be delegated to others. Or someone working on channeling his passion and energy into influencing people by inspiring them gets frustrated and ends up relying on his authority (or his temper) to get what he wants.
Whatever the change that people seek, they are bound to experience resistance and frustration in the midst of transitioning from an old pattern into a more productive, constructive and effective one.
The good news, I always tell people, is that if you are frustrated that you have been unable to make progress, you have actually made more progress than you realize.
At the very least, you have recognized that your current behavior is simply not working for you anymore, and are immersed in feeling the negative impact that behavior is having on your effectiveness. Without experiencing the pain of a behavior we want to change, there is very little likelihood that we will be motivated to do what it takes to get where we want to go.
And the first step to making any kind of change is to become aware of the patterns and habits we are currently falling into, so that we can interrupt the knee jerk reaction that compels us to keep engaging in them.
You see, the part of self improvement that most people are accustomed to is that which entails learning a new skill. As Abraham Maslow pointed out many years ago, we start out in a phase of unconscious incompetence, where we don’t even know what we don’t know.
In this phase, we may believe the change we want to make should be easier than not. My preteen kids, for instance, believe they can drive cars because they do it all the time in their video games.
The second learning stage we reach is conscious incompetence, where we realize how very little we actually do know – which is what will happen the first time my children actually get behind the wheel of a real car (just like it did for me so many years ago).
This is a painful and often humiliating phase that makes reverting back to the habits and patterns we do know – but are trying to move away from – all the more enticing.
The third learning stage is conscious competence, where we begin to achieve success in learning and executing a new skill – but we have to work at it, sometimes peeking at our notes to remember what to do next and/or how to do it correctly.
I remember that when I learned how to drive a stick shift, I initially had to tape a diagram onto the dashboard that reminded me where each gear was, and make each shift with deliberate and focused intention.
The fourth stage is unconscious competence, where we know something so well, we no longer need to think about it much – which is where most people are when they attempt to text, talk on the phone, eat and do all kinds of other crazy things while they are driving.
We get to the place where the thing we are doing comes so naturally , we may even feel as though we could do it in our sleep.
While this four stage learning process is often acknowledged as being vital to learning new things, we often overlook the fact that making a change also requires us to unlearn old things.
In other words, the behavior most people are trying to change is so engrained that they are at the stage of unconscious competence with it: it kicks in without them even realizing it – because to a large degree it is on automatic pilot.
Until we learn to dismantle the old behaviors, the impulses and conditioned actions will always threaten to override our deliberate efforts at implementing something new – especially if it flies in the face of what we did before.
Q. So how do you dismantle old behavior?
A. You have to start at the phase the old behavior is at (unconscious competence) and move backwards.
Before we can make the change we seek, we have to become aware of the degree to which the old behavior kicks in without us even realizing it. And once we realize it, we have successfully moved down the ladder from unconscious competence to conscious competence – where we are doing what we are doing, but with awareness.
This is exactly the phase people are at when they feel consumed with frustration at not being able to make the change they seek. They have begun to realize just how strong their impulse to do what they’ve always done is and how often it kicks in.
Combine this with the frustration people experience at the stage of conscious incompetence while becoming proficient with a new behavior – where they are painfully aware of just how much they don’t know – and it’s no wonder people have such difficulty making lasting change.
But the intersection between conscious competence with an old behavior, and conscious incompetence with a new behavior is the very threshold at which change happens. If we can just stick with it long enough and continue to pay attention, we can catch ourselves in the midst of engaging in an old behavior and interrupt the pattern.
The more often we do this, the better we get at it – and eventually we can move the old behavior from conscious competence to conscious incompetence – where we are deliberately choosing not to engage in it anymore. At the same time, we can move up the ladder with our new behavior – from conscious incompetence to conscious competence – the stage at which we achieve some success with applying what we are learning.
The bottom line is that change is hard. And it takes time. We need to give ourselves credit for showing up and keep on plugging away. Thomas Edison once said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
I like to tell a story in my workshops that illustrates the process of making a change. You may have heard it before:
A guy walks down a street and falls into a hole. He is not happy about it and feels like a victim.
The next day, he walks down the same street and falls into the hole again. He is frustrated with himself, because he knew better.
On the third day, he walks down that street, begins to fall into the hole again, catches himself, and manages to avoid it.
On the fourth day, he walks down the street, sees the hole and consciously steps around it.
On the fifth day, he walks down another street.
Will Rogers once said, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” I would echo his advice and add – become aware of the fact that YOU are holding the shovel. Use it to get yourself out of the hole. And before too long, you will learn to take another street.
The above article contains excerpts from my book, The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Unless you do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” This week’s video post recaps a brief conversation I had with my youngest son that gave me insight into why it is so hard to move beyond that which we already know — and what we have to lose if we don’t. It’s amazing what you can learn from your kids — and a pair of old, gnarly sneakers. Tweet
Here’s what I said in the video:
My son pulled these [sneakers] out of the trash the other day. He said, “Mom, why did you throw these away, I love these shoes!”
“Really? This is why I threw them away.”
“But Mom they’re so comfortable and I love them and they’re black and they’re great and they’re all worn in.”
“But sweetie, if it rains, your toes are going to get sopped. And you can’t run as fast as you want to in these. And you can’t play kickball without injuring yourself.”
He insisted on wearing them. He dug them out of the trash and put them on one day even after we bought him new shoes.
But you know, I get it — because we all have our habits that are comfortable and easy and familiar. And we want to keep doing them, even when they don’t serve us anymore.
Sometimes comfort keeps you bound. Dare to move beyond it.
For more on moving beyond your comfort zone: