We live in a fog of our own experience. It’s a fog that we create that is both comfortable and limiting. It is entirely human, it calls up the way our brain processes information and creates the menu of habitual thoughts, feelings and behaviours that define us.
So how do we change? What triggers the fog to lift, and change to occur? That is also a story of the brain.
With your permission, I will use my story as an example to show how change can be triggered and be made real.
I was highly successful in my corporate career - I thought I was near the top of my game. An exciting new opportunity emerged as it was offered even higher ‘honours.’ It was exciting and affirming...until it was withdrawn without explanation. This flipped my world on its head, and my view of myself was pulled into an uncomfortable focus. I began to attribute this circumstance to others, to my own failings, to plots and plans in the organisation. I reacted badly. My instinctive responses and behaviours were being played out around me. I took on a defensive frame and lashed out in all directions. I carved a path of emotional, relational and physical destruction.
Whilst this happened, I could almost see myself acting this way, and realising that this wasn’t how I wanted to be. It couldn’t go on this way - but what could I do? Even though I didn’t want to be like this, I couldn’t seem to escape from this version of myself.
In my brain, the world was being processed through a series of habitual filters, known as heuristics. These cognitive shortcuts mean that we focus in on things which are significant to us, ignore things which we don’t want to believe, and act according to what we know and what we believe will work for us - because it has worked for us before. I was seeing the world and acting in it through a distorted lens, based on defensive, survival driven instincts and patterns of behaviour. I didn’t need to think too hard, I just let the old patterns run.
It is these heuristics that make our lives easy, and at the same time create the rigidities which keep us stuck.
It is in that moment of self-reflection - when we see ourselves from the stance of observer rather than from the view of the actor - that we get the chance to recognise that the way we are doing things may not be the best way. I was certainly aware that I was not at my best (for me or the people around me). It is a window which allows us to see ourselves as the outside world sees us. Our true self, rather than the imagined self we create in that personal fog.
Here lies the bifurcation point. Do I slip back into the comfort of the fog of how it had always been, or do I find a way to integrate these two views of myself - and create something else?
Change is always preceded by such a choice. Stasis or growth. We see something in a new way and come to a point. It is at this point that we often slip back because it is easier, safer or more certain than proceeding into the unknown. What will we find when we step out of our comfortable fog, and are we equipped to deal with it?
For me the equation was simple: the pain of staying as I was was far greater than any comfort in not changing. The fear of the unknown was outweighed by the desire to be different, as well as a curiosity as to what could be.
I was galvanised to do something different. My change journey began with that moment of insight, with a weighting of what was against what could be. It called forth curiosity to find out and a courage to give up certainty.
In the end, I am so glad I did. As I look back now, I cannot imagine how my life would be if I stayed in my fog. I look around and see so many others who find it all too comfortable. That’s fine. Until they want to change, the fog provides nothing but comfort. Only when they are ready will they find another way.
To learn more about Phil Owens, please visit his website ResourcedLeaders.com