This story goes back about 6 years ago when I was just about to begin my career as a freelance Lean trainer and coach. I will set the scene by telling you how “fixed” my mindset was at the beginning and then share the moment that allowed me to change my life. We all have the opportunity to change our lives and often 1 new insight, 1 new brain pathway, is all it takes.
It was the morning of my first open enrolment training and a group of 12 people would soon show up. I couldn’t help but thinking: “they paid a lot, they will be demanding, I must deliver”. My body felt trapped and my mind was raging at an impossible speed. Did I think of everything, did I put on the right clothes, how was my hair, my breath,… Trying to remind myself to stay calm didn’t help as I kept seeing 3 major targets to achieve: 1) I must make sure that each participant knows enough to pass the exam, 2) I need to make this a insightful training so the group will give me a high NPS recommendation score at the end and last but not least 3) I must make a lovely impression so that the majority finds me highly likeable… Quite a challenge I was setting myself as you can see. No room for ‘let’s experiment and learn’ or ‘hmm, this is the first time, let’s see which parts I enjoy the most’… I felt like a machine that was set for maximum operating conditions.
They arrived one by one and I kicked off the day. Trying to keep focus on my goals I set a fast pace and delivered as much knowledge as I had. An unexpected question came from the group – Not a difficult question, but my mind hit a wall: Oh no, I never worked in that area, oh no, surely I didn’t know any examples from that industry, but crap, this would mean I would deceive this persons expectations… oh double crap, that way he surely will think I’m ignorant and I’ll never get a high score…
(You can easily deduct that in a split second my brain went from scanning my Lean memories, because surely I had 1 or 2 solutions somewhere to the challenge, to panicing about the horrifying consequences that would emerge if I didn’t find an answer quickly. Instead of using my brains energy on the task, all of the energy got dispersed in fear and anxiety. This is a lovely feature of the brain by the way: there is only so much energy & this energy can only be in 1 place at the same time )
I never answered the question, I don’t really remember the specifics, brains play that trick often in panic situations, but I think I kind of talked myself out of it and firmly reclaimed my position of all-knowledgeable professor vs. the group.
The whole thing repeated itself a couple of times: people would ask questions and whenever a question came to me as a surprise I would slightly panic and forget to use my brain. I think I was so focussed on becoming a good trainer that I forgot I actually was one 🙂. By the end of the second day I was truly exhausted and not sure I had had a good time. My recommendation scores were 6’s & 7’s and one 8 (out of 10), but instead of focussing on what had gone well, I just kept seeing my own errors in flashbacks.
This went on for about half a year as I occasionally trained some groups, the number of difficult questions went down as I gained experience, and my scores went slightly up, but I would remain so fixated on the result that each session would bring major stress along and every morning would start with me having the runs.
I was lucky to have a friend back then who was a life coach and listened to my concerns. She asked me why I actually kept on doing this job and what I liked about it. I started telling her that I loved standing in front of the group and being their guide for those 2 days. That I enjoyed telling stories and inspiring them and that it almost felt like an art performance when I was training. As I listened to myself talking I already could feel a sort of new light shining in me. Then she asked me: “What is most rewarding: the scores at the end or the feeling you get while you animate a group?” And there it hit me: “… animating the group… I’m an animator!” – whatever the result, I just love to be seen, to play around, to stage and perform, to be myself… It was as if somebody had turned on the light in complete darkness. That one little phrase “I’m an animator” made me see the whole thing from a new perspective. In my head a new connection had just been established – 2 neurons that had never collided before all of the sudden made a big bang and a synaps emerged – this was pure brain chemistry but I could feel it all over my body. That moment changed my training days for good…
Paving a road:
The moment we discover a new ‘path’ in our minds is quite breathtaking, but in order to start living it that way too, we need some more practice to actually internalise the new belief. I developed a little morning routine to remind myself of focussing on the moment of performance itself rather than loosing my head over the final ordeal that would take place at the end of each training. I discovered that I actually ‘knew’ the answer to all possible questions if I just remained relaxed and took the time to scan through my knowledge and experience. I found that asking the group honestly for a moment of reflection was a great way to balance emotions and access my wisdom. All of these experiences helped me to kind of‘pave a road’ where there was a narrow path in the first place. If we continuously walk over the same trail through the woods, it broadens & deepens so much that one day some municipal planning architect will give the order to pave it with concrete. That’s what happens in our brains too: by practicing accessibility increases.
I think that during the last 5 years I’ve been upgrading my narrow path to a main road, a double lane and finally a real highway allowing me to be in the moment more and more often. I still get stressed or panic on occasions, but never bad or for too long. The key for me is that transformation happens over time, but change occurs instantly. Change is the moment we see the same things we saw just before, but in a whole new perspective. It is a re-arrangement of reality done by our brains that seems so small, but makes all the difference. A discovery of a truth buried under layers of certainties and fixed mindsets. I guess what I learned is that when we get stuck, we usually don’t need to learn new stuff as much as we need to unlearn the old.
In change management we typically want to build highways of new behaviours in other people’s mind, but we mustn’t forget that in order to lay a highway, we first need to help that person discover that there is a narrow path through the dark forest in the first place.
Find out more on how you can use brain knowledge to reach people’s heart and become a better change and strategy leader.