The key to being who you want to be
Understand who you are and why you do what you do
1. Why you do what you do
8 mins reading time
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 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 or 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 to believe in and unlock their abilities, including myself. What you read now is the merger of that experience, research, and knowledge from those years.
Note: If you want to read this in your language, copy & paste the text here
The Snowboard story
A few weeks ago, on a beautiful and cold Sunday, I went up the French mountains to start snowboarding with my 9-year-old daughter. Below is the picture we took just before the first lesson started. It was fun to start something new together.
The lesson went ok for a first time, and we continued a bit on our own afterwards. Pretty soon, she could not get on the board anymore. She was laying in the snow, the board strapped on and simply not getting from the horizontal to the vertical. That, though, would be kind of helpful to ride. I realised it was not a question of energy but technique and especially motivation. After a short break relaxing a bit, explaining how to do it, encouraging, and helping, she still could not get on the board independently. It took us 25 minutes to ride down a slope that typically takes about a minute.
Of those 25 minutes, we spend 24 trying to get her on her feet. We went up again, and the same thing happened. I started to lose patience.
Was this just one of these typical parent stories trying unsuccessfully to teach their children sport? No. Something else happened.
I got increasingly frustrated, angry, and lost patience to the point that I proposed packing up and going home. I kept most of my emotions to myself, but she sensed something was wrong. She was not happy, I was not happy, and the result was not great either. I decided this was not a sport I wanted to continue. However, she charmed me into repeating this the following weekend as she really wanted to learn snowboarding. It was the same bad ending. On the way back in the car, I picked up a comment that, anyway, I am never happy with her and only criticise her.
I was shocked. What happened? I am about to ruin a potentially great sports experience and the relationship with one of the two most important people in my life … because of what?
I started to analyse and committed that this cannot continue and that I need to change something. But what and how?
When I was about 10 years old, my parents made it clear that they would not pay for or support me for sports. I was devastated that joining a sports club or being sportive was important for multiple reasons. It was up to my motivation, energy, and drive to make it happen. But I was on my own with this endeavour. Unfortunately, I was terrible at every school sports activity. I was a shy, thin, and non-athletic boy who loved to do sports but was not good at any. I started to train myself and realised that tenacity and accepting some hardship is helpful. Learning about going beyond where you think you cannot go was something that began to shape my personality. I trained myself to run longer distances and learned about breathing, drinking, eating, etc. This was in the 80s, and you did not find information about how to do this well easily where I lived. You had to figure it out by yourself. Fast forward a few years, I was the best in any school sports. I became pretty good in some sports and made it up to coach some teams at a young age. I have loved sports until today. For me, it is a way to get the energy that symbolises my fight for the life I want, persistence, motivating myself, never giving up, believing in myself, and going beyond.
Based on my experience, I formed a belief that if you want to get something you want, you must fight, be tough, persist, be creative, and be independent. A belief, in this case, is a mental construct, simplifying a complex emotional and physical experience linked to a past situation. Also, it defines future decisions and reactions in comparable situations.
(Note: beliefs can also be formed differently, but this part of another article.)
Having a mental construct helps but does not do much when things get tough. To have an impact, you also need a helper that will make you actually do something. The helper is a linked psychological and/or physical mechanism to have real-world results. It is meant to get me the results I want to have or avoid situations that are not good for the belief. This is what a helper, a friend does.
How does this "helper" work? For me, in sports, each time when things became difficult or when I lost motivation when I did not know how to make it, the helper kicked in. It mixed up an iron mentality with memories of success. Therefore, a vision, a dream, is also part of the helper as it is also part of a belief. That is a positive belief and positive helper, and I like them; I do not want to lose them.
But also, the belief can bring memories of failure and humiliation, and the helper follows with the related action, so I get protected from the situation to be avoided. But that is negative and, therefore, not sustainable. It would probably burn me out over time if that were my driver in sport or life.
How I feel will depend on if the dream or the humiliation kicks in more. It could be feelings of worry and desperation or more of enjoyment and happiness, a kind of a flow experience.
Looking at it neutrally, this is a fantastic mechanism that still works well for me until today when I am riding up the mountains with my bike, and it starts to hurt a bit when a part of me wants me to stop. So, I am happy to have this in a way, it keeps me going when needed, but I also want to ensure it does not block me in any form or, over time, even take energy from me.
And then you see your daughter laying in the snow and not getting on her feet while she is living her dream of snowboarding. Well, at least laying flat goes with dreaming.
For me, in this daughter-snowboard situation, I only filtered out “complaining”, “waiting”, “not pushing”, and “giving up”. It became apparent that the situation triggered the same emotions as when I did not make it in sports when I was her age. It came up like a mirror or an old scar. My helper mechanism was triggered. In the end, this is my daughter, a part of me. But as she is not me, she lives her life, and she does not fight as much nor persist as much as I do when things get tough. She never needed to do so. She has other mechanisms. She formed different beliefs. For her, it was perfectly ok laying there, not trying as hard as I would, and she wanted me just to be cool and nice and supportive. But I just got my iron fighter mentality out. So that is what it was: my helper was applied as planned. The trigger demanded him to do so! But this time, instead of helping me, it was playing against me and blocked me. Exactly what I did not want. And as all happens kind of unconscious, it was a bit tricky to get to the point to be able to write about it now.
I don't think I am a bad dad. But the situation made me one. And I hate being a bad dad, and I hated my behaviour.
Here is an illustration of how I see this all happening.
Ok, but what now?
Intellectual insights are … nice. But they do not change much. Each time before going snowboarding, I did a lot of my mental programming of only focusing on the fun and staying cool, etc., and whilst this worked partially, I still felt the emotions coming up inside me.
I needed radical change.
I decided that incremental won't do here: coming to the season's close, I wanted to have a good ending for us on snowboarding. As we surf and skate already, adding snowboarding would be so cool if only I could be cool. And she wanted it so much and me too. No pressure….
I decided to try the exact opposite of what I have done so far: letting go of any aspiration, focusing 100% on her: her emotional wellbeing, sticking to her, helping and supporting her sincerely, encouraging her to take breaks where we both would just sit in the snow and get wet at parts of your clothes where you do not want to get wet. I also got totally in front of me our shared dream of riding in the Swiss Alps down a slope together in the sunshine. Giving up, in a way, letting go was what I needed to do here. But in a happy, positive, empathetic, and trustful way. Trusting that love and positivity will find their way. With the dream in mind and knowing that everything else I would do would not bring the ending, we both wanted so much.
And what did that do?
Do you know the feeling of total comfort, happiness, and satisfaction? It did not leave us both during the following weekend. Although she was exhausted again, not being able to get up and not really trying very hard, we both just felt great. My emotional change made her fly. Her fears which were probably reinforced through my unhappiness, had blocked her. She totally opened up on snowboarding in a way that made my jaw drop. Nice moves! With me unlocked, she unlocked. We also easily figured out that for her getting up sitting is difficult, but if she turned around on her knees and pushed herself up, it was actually much more manageable. So instead of forcing and pushing water uphill, innovation, fun, and joy came in. We already rode down some slopes together side by side and had a lot of fun, attention, and love for each other.
Sounds easy, and actually, it is. But not if you are emotionally locked down, stuck and somehow stubborn for others around you. And to unlock, you need first to understand what got you there.
There is more about making sustainable change happen after intellectual insight, but that is part of another article in this series. Also, the construct shared above will need some more explanation in another article.
How does this relate to you
Try to remember the last time you had a strong negative emotion. It could be impatience, anger, frustration, depression, etc. I do not like to focus on negative stuff, but it is easier for most people to find the trigger here. If you cannot find one, please stop reading and continue to live a happy life, this is not for you, and I envy you a bit :) All the others, ask yourself: What did this do to me emotionally – was I feeling good then and afterwards? Probably not. How did I make people feel that were impacted by that emotion? Did my reaction create a positive or negative result? If you OR another person affected by your behaviour do not come out well, then this is not sustainable. You need to change something.
Observe during some weeks each time a negative emotion comes up in you. Examples can be impatience, anger, frustration, arrogance, worry, insecurity, unhappiness, sadness… it might not be easy to observe. In that case, see if others react emotionally to you and observe what in 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?
- are there parallels to previous experiences, to your earlier life? Go as far back as your memory allows you to go.
Taking notes regularly and seeing if there is a pattern, maybe a point where it all leads to, really helps a lot. Do not analyse yet; just observe.
In the following articles of this series, we will continue from here:
- explaining the core construct in a bit more detail with some examples
- 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