The Key of Life – Master yourself
who you want to be
A simple framework explaining your life logic on one page
To understand why you do what you do
To show you how to change to what you want to be.
Part 2. The construct explained
Why you should read this
Emotions are what define who we are. If you live a 100% happy and fulfilled life, this article will help you understand why some people don't and what might be behind their decisions and actions. If you are not there yet, please keep reading; this is for you. Understanding what creates the emotions that define your decisions and, finally, who you are is key to a happy and fulfilled life. Also, becoming or being a leader starts with "leading" yourself and understanding your impact on others.
Many people think that you cannot influence who you are, your personality. But you can. Some of this has been written about already, but for me, other concepts were always missing pieces of the puzzle or were too complicated. So, I came up with the below, which helps my coachees and myself to live a better life. It works! Try it, and if you would like some help with it or have questions, please get in touch with me.
Why listen to me?
I spent over 25 years leading transformational change as an HR professional and consultant in large multinational environments and over 50 years trying to lead myself as a human. I have trained coaches and established a coaching function. I spent much time helping people believe in themselves and unlock their abilities, including myself. What you read now is the merger of all that experience, research, and knowledge from those years.
Note: If you want to read this in your language, copy & paste the text here
How you can take an instant decision to change your life – a real story that happened to me
Hormones get crazy in adolescence. And minds, therefore, too. I was desperately in love with a girl that seemed unreachable to me. I was very shy and would have never dared to ask a girl out: the risk of getting rejected was bigger than the upward potential.
Somehow, we still ended up together. I do not precisely remember anymore how it happened; most likely, she took the initiative. I remember I was 15, and it was spring. Having spent a few months together, I was ready to give my life for her, marry her and start a family. Fast forward, and to my big disappointment, she went on summer vacation without me. She went to a youth camp with many competitors, and I sensed this could mean trouble for my family plans. Young and stupid, I even set up a spy that went to the same camp, and he reported that there was nothing to worry about. However, back from vacation, she broke up with me as expected. She did not give any real reason other than it was not going where she wanted to, and that was it. I remember every detail of that moment: where it was, the light, the wind, the temperature … but even more, I remember exactly how I felt. Whilst it was awful to lose her, to be back to being single, to have been rejected, the worst was not even how it felt but was what I did: I did precisely nothing about it. I was just sitting there and giving up. I did not fight for her; I did not try to offer solutions for a re-start; I just shut up and accepted the situation. She left, and I sat there in despair and frustration. Today I would call this “being a victim”. And I do not sign-up for this concept. Not then, not today.
In the coming days, the frustration energy got at me more and more. It did not help that we sat in the same classroom all day.
It became too much for me; the tipping point was reached. It was a mixture of anger, motivation, and focus. I consciously decided that this would not happen again in my life, and from that moment on, I changed my personality to the opposite of who I was before.
But hang on. What? How exactly?
This could be interesting to know, and now in adult life, how could I benefit from that without the hardship, drama and losing a meaningful relationship? What did I do?
In the state of emotional stress, I took something out of my unconsciousness, replaced it with something more adapted for my future, started testing it and if proven ok over time, it would become automated and, therefore, conscious again. I changed what I call a “helper”.
The helper initially helped me in my life, but now it is not only useless, it is even an obstacle and destructive for me in the long term.
There is a story behind why I was shy until that day in summer, but this would be too long to tell. But I decided that being shy and risk-averse won’t work for me anymore. Radical change was needed, and I chose to try the opposite of what I had done so far. My risk was low as I had lost out already, and I felt I could only win from here. I started to test and try, and the results were so much better than what I had before that I never went back until today.
In the first article of this series, I introduced the below construct. This helped me understand why I am who I am and why I do what I do. This construct works well for my coachees and me to understand the logic of life and therefore be able to change it relatively easily. Well, no change is easy, but compared to having typically no idea how to change or, even worse, not even realising the need for change … this is easy peasy!
As a side note, this also helps well with groups of people in a larger system (aka team development). But this is for another article.
Understanding the basics of the construct is intuitive, but let’s look at some more detail. This will also help later when we talk about how to initiate, follow through and sustain change. Let me first explain the elements of the construct and then build them into a simple story to make it real.
The elements of the construct explained
A Need is something fundamental we all require to exist. We need, for example, protection, attention or love etc. There were these horrible experiments with children that did not receive any love.. you might know the rest of the story already.
A core Priming Event can happen in the earlier phases of life. A need is in the air before. The event just happens as life does. It either fulfils the need (positive emotion) or not (negative emotion). In each case, an emotion is now linked to the need through the event.
This is getting already complicated, and complication is not what we want. Therefore, a belief is now formed to simplify this all. Typically, this happens unconsciously, so you do not have to go again each time through experimentation or memory to find out what once worked. It is automated. Though a belief is only a mental construct, an insight, and does not get you into needed action.
That is why a helper is formed. The helper is inseparably connected to the whole string so far. It is like the psychological and physical activity linked to the mental construct of a belief. Its goal is to get your initial need fulfilled. That is what this all is about. It is initially designed to ensure your survival and be automated—a friend.
If all worked out as planned, there might be an additional unconscious check with a checkmark. The kind of design chosen for the helper can be influenced by other beliefs, transmitted from others, copied, defined culturally, etc. It would go too deep here to go further; essential is that the helper is formed.
Note: This is a simplified version of how beliefs and helpers are formed for our purpose here. There are many factors like culture, religion, politics and so on that influence beliefs. But for our purpose above descriptions work whilst reality can be more complicated.
Fast forward a few days, years, or decades the helper is triggered: the need is not satisfied again. Now the simplification works - the whole process does not have to be repeated; we go straight and especially unconsciously into action with the helper. If similar people, a similar situation or similar emotions are around, that makes it even more intense.
The question is now if the helper does the same magic again as in the past? My observation is that positive ones do, negative ones often do not. Simply put, a positive helper makes you feel good and helps you and others, and a negative one does the opposite. They often trigger virtuous or vicious circles—more on this in another article.
Most people stop here and repeat. “This is my personality; I cannot change it; I was always like that”. “I am just like that.” “Emotions cannot be changed; they just happen”.
This is what we often hear then. As it all happens mainly unconsciously, people re-apply this over and over. Independent if it does good or bad. Those are usually the people where everybody says they won’t change anymore. I believe it has nothing to do with age, but it is about consciousness (which might again be linked to age …?).
Should things work out well for you and others, you just reinforce your virtuous circle. This is like a vicious circle, but the opposite, so positive. Stay there! Congratulations on living a fulfilled life!
Generally, some people observe how they feel; only a few try to change behaviour more or less successful, even less observe what their behaviour does to others, and a minority tries to change what is called “impact on others”.
There is a window of change, but what, how?
Outcomes of your action can be sustainable (I feel good, others feel good with my behaviour. Results do play a minor role here, they are less impactful) or non-sustainable (either I do not feel good and/or others do not feel good because of my behaviour, or results are bad)
One way to read this construct is from left to right, as it chronologically happens and as just explained. But more interestingly is to read it the other way round:
Option 1: Am I happy? Are people happy with how I behave? What are the results of my behaviour? All good? Stay calm and carry on.
Option 2: I am not happy? And/or others are not happy? Results are not great? Think about the last time you had an intense negative emotion: what happened? What was the emotion? Now think hard: which need was behind? Is there a story that happened earlier in your life where the need, emotion, reaction already happened? Do you possibly re-apply an earlier helpful pattern here, and it does not work out anymore? Ok … many questions, but that is how it works.
Change from here is a story for another time.
To illustrate this, here is a simple story.
A child wants attention/love (Need). Parents work hard and do not have enough time to fulfil the child's need. The child is not happy. One day it gets sick (Priming Event). The parents have to take time off work and make shifts available for the child to take care of and give attention and love. The child realises that the need gets fulfilled if it gets sick (Helper formed). This typically happens unconsciously.
Later, in work-life, the child, now an adult, gets negative feedback from the superior about performance and also behaviours. The superior does not offer any help and leaves the adult on his own (Trigger Event). The adult has the helper automatically put in motion: a visible behaviour can now be to retract, show low energy, to become sick eventually. This obviously will not help here, and the superior will be even less happy, results will not be great. The adult will be now less happy than before (unsustainable outcome). Will the adult realise and change or continue to apply the helper? I guess we all have already seen both scenarios unfold.
Sorry - I do not like negative stories, but the positive ones are less rich and make you think less ;)
In summary: out of simplicity, we often trust that what worked in the past also works today. As we do not check if this is true, we risk living an unhappy life and, even worse, believe that this is just how it is and we cannot change it. Victim again. We might even defend it and get angry and aggressive about it. Wars are made from this stuff. Crazy, but look around you, and once you understand how this works, it suddenly all makes sense.
Your action to start the process:
- Observe during some weeks when a negative emotion comes up in you. Examples can be impatience, anger, frustration, arrogance, worry, insecurity, unhappiness, low energy, retracting, feeling like a victim, disengagement, feeling undervalued, etc. It could be that they become so much yourself that you do not see them anymore. In that case, see if others react emotionally to you and analyse what your behaviour made them do this.
- What triggered it? The people around? The situation? Language used? Behaviours shown? Information received?
- How did you feel as you behaved under the influence of this emotion? Observe also your posture, language, the energy level at that moment.
- Are there parallels to previous experiences, to your earlier life? Go as far back as your memory allows you to go.
Regularly take some short notes and see if there is a pattern, a point where it all leads to, maybe? But do not analyse yet; just observe.
Change from here is not easy but also not difficult. It is as logical and intuitive as one can describe above. Easy after all, would you not agree? ;)
In a workshop recently, I commented that it takes people 10, 15, maybe 20 years or more to become who they are today. Change might take 10, 15, maybe 20 hours to be sustainable. It depends on you. Sounds a fair deal to me.
In the following articles of this series, we will continue from here:
- sustaining change: what to do once you understand what makes you
- the vicious circle of negative beliefs and the virtuous circle of positive beliefs
- the concept applied to team development
Feel free to reach out if you want some help to think this through and take the following steps.