A 3D silhouette of a machine inside a person's head with a caution sign imposed over it.

Beware Your Own Mind!

by May 23, 2024Organization Development

As a leader, you have many things to distract you. Employee interpersonal issues; personal responsibilities; stakeholders, media, and public expectations; and too many emails are just a few.

However, a major distraction is our own mind. Our minds offer us assumptions, misinterpretations, outdated solutions, as well as stress reactions that can take us well off course.

This article will help us see how minds can distract us and how we can manage it, rather than it managing us!

Diagram of how the mind works

The two circles on the right in the diagram above depict how our automatically works. Adding the circle on the left, the diagram shows how, with self-awareness, we can manage it and not be managed by it.

Starting with the oval on the far right, it represents “The Mind.” It is full of records of:

  1. Experiences: I have experienced electricity. The first time was when my brother overheard me as a precocious four-year-old toddler bombarding my mother with questions about where light, hence electricity, came from. Pretending to be helpful, my older brother asked me if I wanted to know more about electricity, to which I naively nodded, “Yes.” He handed me a bobby pin and instructed me to stick it in the electric outlet across the room. I did so and had my very first experience of electricity (and the evilness of my older brother!).
  2. Community teachings: I have never been hit by a car. I have been taught to look both ways before crossing the street because if a car does hit me, I will be hurt badly. That’s what I’ve been taught, and I act accordingly despite having no experience of being hit by a car.
  3. Stuff we’ve made up: I stuttered as a child, and other children would make fun of me. That was a real and unpleasant experience. In addition, I was asthmatic, nonathletic, and puny. Adding all that up, as a teenager, my only claim to fame, at least in my mind, was being smart.

From there, I made up that the only reason the really cute girl I adored would ever go out with me would be if I picked a movie that she wanted to see. I even proved that I was right when she accepted my invitation!

Adding all three together, we have our beliefs about reality with many records saying that those beliefs represent truth. Many leaders suffer from the imposter syndrome. They have made up that they really aren’t good enough to be in their leadership position. Nobody told them that. They made it up.

When we want to know what is happening “Now”—our middle oval—we cycle through the records in our mind for some similar record to tell us what is happening now. We treat “Now” as if it were that record or set of records.

Notice that many of the records have red flags on them. They indicate the record is one of a threatening or dangerous situation. We search through those first to know if “Now” is safe or not. The more red-flagged records we have, the more we are likely to experience whatever is happening “Now” as unsafe, threatening, and dangerous.

I have worked with several leaders with employees who complain that he shuts down any idea that sounds in disagreement to an idea of his. Here’s what’s happening according to the diagram. He hears an idea. His mind searches for a similar record. He finds one that is red flagged. It is a repeated record of himself as an insecure kid being berated by his father for having a not well-thought-out idea.

When an employee has an idea different from his, it treats “Now” as that old record where he is always wrong. In defense, he shuts down the disagreeing idea. He treated the poor employee as if he was a threat, which was not the employee’s intention at all.

That is how the mind works on automatic. Our mind and its automatic process are great for understanding the commonplace and the routine of our worlds where little conscious attention needed.

However, if our intention is to lead, manage change, to grow, and to learn, then the next part of our pictorial becomes imperative.

With those goals in mind, we need the “Conscious Choice” oval on the far left. With “Conscious Choice”, we can choose to be curious about whether our mind’s interpretation of the “Now” event is accurate or not.

Being curious and not trusting what his mind is telling him, the leader could ask his employee the reason for sharing his idea.

Being curious before we take our judgments too seriously sounds like a straightforward proposition. Still, choosing to be curious when our mind is being quite emphatic about its interpretation is difficult and requires being intentional and disciplined.

In addition, our minds will likely play that old record about curiosity—it killed the cat! On the surface, our beliefs about curiosity are positive. Underneath, however, are the messages about “the curious cat”, as well as the closely related messages of “don’t be nosy”, “mind your own business”, and “don’t get involved.”

If that weren’t bad enough, another belief blocks our path to curiosity. Ignorance is the precursor of curiosity which our minds judge harshly. We, particularly as leaders, are supposed to “already know.”

If perchance they secretly don’t “already know,” many leaders believe we shouldn’t let on to that; let’s “fake it until we make.” How well has that worked for you? Leonardo DaVinci offered the question, “Why do we judge ignorance so harshly? Why fear what we do not know?” We just might learn something.

If we will choose curiosity and not take the judgments from our minds seriously, then, as leaders, we have given ourselves the opportunity to learn and to put some new records into the repository of our minds which can take us to new places rather than simply revisit old places.

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Dr. Michael F. Broom is an organization development psychologist who transforms organizations with his 45+ years of wisdom and expertise . Michael Broom smilingSpecializing in developing leaders, building teams, strategic planning, conflict resolution, and performance management, he emphasizes empowerment and excellence.

He is the author of The Infinite Organization and Power, The Infinite Game.

He is a recipient of the OD Network’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Contact Dr. Broom for a free hour of consultation at chumans.com or email him at michael@chumans.com. You’ll be surprised the difference a single hour can make!

Check out his immediately useful services and programs at CHumanS.com.