It’s very difficult

Three simple words that can drain our power and stop us from seeing the opportunities ahead. Similar to ‘We’ve Always Done It This Way,’  They seem insignificant but they are not.

I hear this phrase time and time again. I hear it from politicians defending their track record. I hear it from global team leaders grappling with the challenges of leading across distance and culture. I even hear it from myself as I attempt to balance running a business and looking after my family, and I should know better.

The words are dangerous partly because they seem so reasonable. After all, we should ‘look before we leap’. If we are not aware of the pitfalls ahead we could land ourselves in trouble. So these words are like a fox, moving silently and unnoticed and charming us into a false sense of security, capturing its prey (us) when we least expect it. 

fox-48391_640The problem is our brains don’t always work logically. We have this thing called the creative subconscious. One of its jobs is to resolve inner conflict and to make sure we behave the way we know we are. Unfortunately who we really are is not always clear. This spells disaster for our minds so what the creative subconscious does is listen to the strongest voice. As it can’t tell the difference between what is real and what is vividly imagined, if what is hears constantly is ‘it’s very difficult‘ that is what it will settle for. Then our filtering mechanism  (called the Reticular Activating System – RAS) kicks in  to prevent stimulation overload and then what we see in the world will back up this view that we do not have the energy, power or skills to solve a new problem.

We literally do not recognize opportunities that could be helpful. This same RAS will work to bring to mind anything we have assigned value to, whether we have done it deliberately or not. Have you ever spent time researching the best car for you, only to find that when you first take it on the road all you see all around you is the exact same model? There has not been, of course, a sudden increase in the sale of this model. What is happening is that your brain is now seeing what was always there because the car has become significant.Untitled drawing (13)

I recently worked with an all female executive team. These women are creative, determined and and clearly committed to grow their company. They have strong track records in business and were well aware of what was going on in the external global environment and could see the opportunities for expansion. However at the beginning of the project their energy levels were low and they were at the end of their collective tether trying to upwardly manage a major stakeholder who was derailing most of their strategic decisions. We explored what the impact of this scenario was and what the solutions might be.

Initially each option considered was judged as probably not viable because ‘it’s very difficult when he interferes‘ or ‘it’s very difficult when he thinks he has more power than he has‘ or ‘it’s very difficult when he denies he agreed to something.’ There was a creeping assumption that the problem was just too hard to address. It took a lot of digging, and a fair degree of challenge from me for them to transform their picture of one of helplessness to one of optimism. The fox had well and truly cornered its prey. Fortunately the team can see this now and are feeling strong enough to change tactics. Crucially these women now see a different reality, one which recognizes the power they have to lead, and in the way they see fit.

Perhaps the leadership team at Kodak in the 1970s were in this ‘it’s very difficult‘ mindset. Is is possible that when they worked out that the digital camera (which they invented) had the potential to decimate its core business that they decided that the technology should not be exploited?COLLINS_Kodak

The killer phrase needs defeating on an individual level too. I am currently learning to reframe my self-talk on what I need to do to remain resilient – the oxygen mask principle as I described in a recent post. A small difference in wording perhaps but notice the difference between ‘When I make time for myself I have more energy to grow my business and provide my family with the resources and experiences they need and spend time with them‘ and  ‘If I try and work long hours in the business and be around for the family I will burn out and end up being no use to anyone.‘ I am making it easy for my subconscious to prioritize positive outcomes.

So what can you do to outsmart the fox?

    1. Raise your awareness of when this kind of language is present. Often we don’t realize what we are saying and just acknowledging it on its own can prompt us to stop doing it.
    2. When you do catch yourself doing it ask yourself ‘How can I make this easier?’ This simple question can unstick your mindset from one focusing on the problem to one that is looking for opportunities.
    3. Be sensitive to how others might be feeling and needing when attempting to draw them into solution-focused thinking. ‘I can see how that looks difficult for you / I’m sure I would feel the same in your situation. I wonder how …,’ for example, can greatly  improve the chances of your message striking home.
    4. Help your subconscious mind by visualizing the positive outcome you want. See yourself having achieved what you want, as if you already have. What does it look like? How does it feel?

Click here for more information on the work Clare McNamara does with leaders and their teams.

© Move Ahead Global 2014



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