It’s that time of year when many of us are reflecting on our lives—the good and the bad, which invariably leads to thinking about the future. As we begin to imagine a life of more “what worked” and less of “what didn’t,” we often begin dreaming of what might manifest in the future. How might we have more happiness or contentment and less sadness or suffering? How do we get from where we are currently in each of our life’s journey to the place where we want to be? We want to move from a current state to a desired state.
In other words, we want change.
Insert New Year’s resolutions here. We resolve to “eat healthier” or “communicate more”…the list goes on. And at first, we’re committed. We are convinced that if we can change certain behaviors, we will be better off. We may even celebrate a few successes in “sticking” to our resolutions. Yet, as experience tells us, very few of us achieve lasting results. Despite our desire for a new and improved future, despite our best efforts—however valiant or noble—the changes go by the wayside and we are back to our old ways. Instead of improved employee engagement there’s entropy, culture remains unchanged, and customer satisfaction remains flat.
Because we focus on the wrong things. We focus on changing our behaviors without looking at what drives behaviors in the first place.
Behaviors are the outward expression of something deeper for each of us: our mindsets and beliefs. If you want to achieve successful change, you have to change your behaviors. To change your behaviors, you have to change your mindset.
This means evaluating, and possibly changing, your beliefs. This is why change isn’t quick or easy. It’s about choosing to do something different—again and again and again—over time. It’s about transforming the way we think, and feel, and function in the world each opportunity at a time. True lasting change is a process and it takes time. It is iterative and requires patience, practice, and acceptance. It is rooted in mindsets and beliefs, but change begins with choice.
I first became aware of this concept of the importance of choice when I came across this quote by Noam Chomsky:
“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe the future can be better, it’s unlikely you will step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume that there’s no hope, you guarantee there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, there are opportunities to change things, there’s a chance you may contribute to making a better world. The choice is yours.”
This quote had a profound impact on my life. So positive and lasting an effect on me, I can segment my life into the time before I read this quote and everything after it.
“Optimism as a strategy” was a gift allowing me to evolve and discover something new. It was the first time I encountered the idea that optimism could be put forth as a legitimate plan for change. I was used to strategies being more explicitly defined: achieve an increase in profits by having the sales force sell more; or, decrease expenses by eliminating wastefulness. For me, optimism was a good thing, yet I considered it more of an outlook on life. I viewed optimism as important for how it orients one to the world, but it was “soft” and non-quantifiable—quite the opposite of what I believed strategies to be. Considering optimism as a strategy made me think (or rethink) what I believed.
As it turns out, what I believed about optimism before this quote had limits. Thinking of it the way I did was a limiting belief. Limiting beliefs are those that we have that hold us back from achieving the possible. They constrain rather than expand our perspectives. Along with other beliefs and mindsets, they drive behaviors. Optimism became an invitation to convert limiting beliefs into opportunities. When we reconsider what we believe and become aware of the limiting beliefs, we have a gift: an opportunity to discover something new and with this new information we evolve.
Connecting Beliefs to Behaviors
The middle part of the quote connects beliefs to behaviors. I have to believe that something is possible—that the future or the world can be better—for me to take action. I have to have a mindset of possibilities and opportunities. I have to have a mindset that I’m part of something bigger and that being part of something bigger means being responsible—for myself and my actions. Possibilities, opportunities, and responsibilities all involve believing there is another way that can be better and behaving responsibly and accordingly. Conversely, if I believe that things aren’t possible, things are beyond my control, or that I have no impact, then my behavior will be in alignment and it’s unlikely that I will do anything at all.
The Choice is Yours
Perhaps what most resonated for me is the final sentence of this quote: “The choice is yours.” It was a wake-up call as much as it is a call to action. I remember thinking: “Wait, I have a choice?” and I realized that while I had long believed that change is a constant, I had been under the impression that change was largely beyond me. It helped me understand when I feel like there is no hope or things are beyond my control, I’m engaging in limiting beliefs and a mindset that I have no control. This translates to a feeling of powerlessness and these thoughts trigger behaviors that align to a belief that I have no power or control. Chomsky’s quote promotes choice for affecting change. I have a choice in how I view my life. I have a choice in how I achieve better. I have a choice in what I believe which means I have a choice in how I behave. This choice means that I am in control of change. And, so too, are you.
If your organization is undergoing change, there are many ways in which you can inspire the beliefs and behaviors of your people. Let’s chat.