Leveraging your present situation

Your present situation may be very hypnotic. It may have you in a spellbound trance where you're waiting for something to change. It then has you convinced that you'll do something different or differently after there is something different to do. Meanwhile you're "keeping on keeping on" as if doing the same old thing is better than doing nothing.

Strategic thinking is way to wake up and be the source of a change in your situation. It provides the means to change your mind in a way that changes your world. Strategic thinking says you can leverage your present situation to get to a better situation instead of waiting for the better thing to come along. It explores the freedom within constraints instead of seeking freedom from constraints. Strategic thinking challenges the premise that your conduct is predetermined by design dictates. It sets you up to use your imposing and unchanging constraints to get more creative and playful.

When constraints over-limit your maneuvers, it appears your lacking what you need to move ahead. It seems you've got to go shopping before you can get things accomplished. You're suffering from a condition of lack, insufficiency and neediness. It's time to throw a pity party and find some commiseration. When you switch to strategic thinking, you can go with what you've already got on hand. It appears you got more than enough to make some headway, make some difference and make some better sense of your situation. You're then thinking about abundance, sufficiency and appreciation for what you've already got working in your favor.

Strategic thinking calls for rethinking the uses, advantages and value of your situation. It sees the familiar facets of your circumstances in an unfamiliar way. By putting limiting things in a new light, it becomes possible to use them in a different way or for a different purpose. Obvious things are no longer as they appear to the untrained observer, but rather appearing as they serve your strategy. You've reframed the imposing obstacles to be significant opportunities for you to leverage in your favor.

Once you've got your situation looking advantageous to yourself, here's some possibilities to explore:
  1. Revising: What practiced and familiar routines can you revise in order to have a different effect? What can you do in a slightly different way to discover what comes of the variation? What habit can you mess up so you pay more attention, consider why you do it that way or think of other ways to get it done.
  2. Reversing: What if you do something backwards or out of sequence? What will happen if you flip/flop the difference and make the bad into good, wrong into right or useless into useful for the time being? What if you come at this from the other side of it where it's already done, happened or established in order to stop trying to get there and to simply come from there now?
  3. Combining: What if you get both things done with one effort? How could you get two deals done concurrently by using the lulls in each others' progress? How can opposing things be brought together in ways that spin off other advantages or create new opportunities?
  4. Exploring: What don't you know about what you already know too well? How could you look into something familiar with different lenses, questions or premises? What is missing in your understanding if your current understanding is one-sided, partially true or only valid in special conditions?
With questions like these in mind, your situation will look easy to leverage in your favor. What previously appear to block your intentions will now seem to be a welcome challenge, a valued resource or source of inspiration to take a different approach altogether.


Definition of strategy

Over the weekend, I spent some time Googling "strategic thinking" to see what else is out there. I was dismayed by the simplistic models that appeared to come straight out of the textbooks I rejected when I was teaching this in college. But then I realized that "simple" is not all bad. I challenged myself to come up with a definition of "strategy" that satisfied my complex understanding. Here's what I came up after a few iterations that meets my standards:
A strategy is a way to get the results you intend by accurately assuming what is feasible, selectively utilizing what is in your favor and creatively diminishing what is going against your intentions.
This definition of strategy suggests how formulation can go awry by:
  • over-estimating what is feasible with wishful thinking or a shortage of reality checks
  • under-estimating what is feasible by becoming intimidated, apprehensive or pressured to conform
  • exaggerating what is in your favor in order to boost faltering confidence or calm misgivings
  • overlooking what can contribute to your success by limiting yourself to what you can pay for, make happen or coerce out of others
  • feeding the adversity by antagonizing the opposition, neglecting preventative efforts and misreading the actual challenges
  • getting defeated by what is going against you by taking it personally, losing a broader perspective and reacting to the evidence literally

Here's an example of how these dimensions get complicated when exploring the strategic advantages of relative size and strength:
  1. Superior size beats smaller size or weakness when situations call for throwing money at a problem, outnumbering the opposition or conquering by confrontation
  2. Superior size can become a disadvantage when opportunities call for highly maneuverable, elusive or undetectable responses to prowess
  3. A show of size can represent vast resources or inflated estimates of advantage, overgrown enterprises or lethargic response capabilities
  4. A show of smallness can appear easy to overwhelm or difficult to prevent from infiltrating, undermining or corrupting the status quo
  5. Superior strength beats weakness when there is a contest of endurance or force to overcome resistance to progress, success or victory
  6. Superior strength can be defeated by apparent weakness that fuels the stronger aggressor's over-confidence, unguarded flanks or fixation on winning
  7. A show of strength can be a sign of strength or a sign of hidden weakness that necessitates over-compensating, strutting or bullying
  8. A show of weakness can indicate vulnerability or put up red flags about possible ambushes, sandbagging or baited traps
There's no easy answers to formulate accurate assumptions, selective utilization of advantages or creative diminishment of adversities. It takes all those mental states I explored for entering the realm of strategy reformulation. Conceiving of effective strategies becomes a mind game ultimately.


Dissecting flawed strategies

When we not getting the results we intended, we're probably deploying a flawed strategy. But rather than admit this possibility, we're usually very tempted to stick to our guns. We think to ourselves:
  • I must not be trying hard enough
  • Don't be a quitter
  • I can make this work if I stay with this long enough
  • All this takes is a little more determination and endurance
All this amounts to trying to get a different result with the same old approach. It's time to dissect the flawed strategy to find the error of our ways. There are no easy answers when looking for strategic flaws. We can err by going to either extreme on four continuums. Finding the middle ground defies pure logic and calls for getting a good feeling about the possibility. Here one way to dissect how you're trying to get an intended result:
  1. We can miss opportunities that we're staring us in the face, hidden from view or behind us when we're looking the other way. We blind ourselves from seeing opportunities by the urge to be right at all cost, making unquestionable predictions or assuming things that obscure reality.
  2. We can fall for mistaken opportunities that seem very alluring, beneficial or even too good to be true. We chase after mirages when we're extremely desperate, lacking, insecure or needy.
  3. We can set up retaliation with our strategy by seeming unfair, unjust or exploitative to others. If they're feeling compromised, backed into a corner, shortchanged or ripped off, our strategy will win the battle, but lose the war. We will have created enemies looking for opportunities to make us pay, look bad or regret our abuse of them.
  4. We can attract parasites with our strategy by being too generous, making too many concessions or sacrificing our own interests like a martyr. We send a message that we welcome dependency, support neediness or encourage clinging to our enterprise.
  5. We can indulge in tactical fixation like the kid with a hammer in his hand who sees everything to be the head of a nail. We become a creature of habit, enslaved by our success routines or captivated by cranking out the product.
  6. We can suffer from a tactical disconnect where we're all talk and no action. We get stuck in the idea stage, refining our dreams or indulging in wishful thinking when the disciplines of hard work, slow progress and tedious refinements seem repulsive.
  7. We can work a single pronged strategy where "all our eggs are in one basket". Our strategy is only good for things going according to our plan. We're derailed by slight variations, unexpected changes or more complexity than we can handle.
  8. We can think scattered efforts are better than a single shot at success. We avoid committing to, focusing on and finalizing an approach to keep our options open, to escape perfectionistic pressures or make a show of continued dedication.

Each strategic error can be corrected according to what's missing, overdone or ill-conceived. Each diagnosis dictates what to do and thus makes it crucial to correctly assess how a strategy is flawed.


Not thinking about our rivals

The realm of competitive strategy tells us to think about our rivals or get beat by them. It's assumed we have to pay close attention to our competition to anticipate their maneuvers, to try to psyche them out and to avoid getting blind-sided by them. I disagree. We psyche ourselves out by thinking about our rivals. We limit ourselves to the game they're playing and set up face-offs, showdowns and tactical fixations. We react to their moves instead of creating an effective strategy aligned with our own vision. We shut down the creative functionality in our brains by stirring up urgent need to handle dangers, threats or enemies. We'd be wise to think about something other than our rivals.

In The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin gives us lots of great advice and personal experiences from his chess and martial arts tournaments. He's keenly aware of rivals attempts to beat him at mind games prior to engaging in the actual contest. He knows to keep focused, play his own game and flow with the adversarial tactics thrown at him by rivals. All this applies superbly at the tactical level of facing immediate challenges.

Two other books give us another alternative to thinking about rivals: The Death of Competition and The Future of Competition. Both suggest changing the game rather than playing the game ruled by the rivals. Rather than match competitors on familiar attributes like price, specs, upgrades, quality, service or convenience, they take us to the space of collaborating with customers. Here are some of the key points for formulating strategies with customers as collaborative partners:
  1. When we co-create value with our beneficiaries, we become more aware of how they value what we do.
  2. When we become value oriented, we value the customers' contributions to our success, insights and timing.
  3. When customers contribute to our success, they exhibit some pride of ownership, stake in the outcomes and buy-in to our premises.
  4. When we learn from customers by working with them, we find out who their customers are and what difficulties they encounter in "reselling" or serving them.
  5. When we collaborate with customers, we spawn a network of loyal nodes who are less susceptible to the offers, spin and lures of rivals.
  6. When we blur the line between customers and employees, customers take on roles of emissaries, market researchers and innovators for the enterprise.
  7. When customers are in the loop, changes in strategies occur more quickly, more easily and more effectively than in guarded isolation.
  8. When we envision the market space as an ecosystem, we relate to the diversity in the space as resources for innovation and reformulation of strategy.
  9. When we're immersed in contrasts to our own strategies, we can integrate many differences to make our own approach more effective, responsive and inclusive.
  10. When value becomes a two way street, we cultivate reciprocal relationships as if everyone involved benefits from the inter-dependencies.
When we make the switch from thinking about rivals to collaborations, we not only avoid the pitfalls of psyching ourselves out, we give ourselves a lot more interesting and productive things to think about instead.


Strategy and unreliable emotions

Formulating effective strategies involves a balance of feelings and thinking. We need to rationally handle the challenges and opportunities. Then we need to get a good feeling about our proposed approach to handling them. If we don't get a good feeling, then it's back to the drawing board for some reformulation.

It's possible we'll never get a good feeling about any strategy we've come up with. We may choose one out of frustration instead. When this occurs, we've likely adopted a false premise that precludes any effective strategy. If we presumed we could sell real estate on the moon, our strategies to succeed in that market space would never give us a good feeling. Our negative feelings or lack of feeling are reliably telling us to question our assumptions.

Unfortunately, it's likely we'll get overtaken by unreliable emotions when formulating strategies. We'll become irrational and imbalanced. In Jonah Lehrer's wonderful second book: How We Decide, he reveals how most participants in the World Series of Poker drop out after the first round by making bad decisions. These flawed strategies fail to keep them in the game or win back their $10K entrance fee. In Laurel Mellin's book I explored last week: Wired For Joy, this setback could be characterized as becoming more stressed out and falling from Brain State 2 to 4.

There are many reasons why strategy formulation is so susceptible to misleading emotions:
  • Competitive strategies often deal with rivals who appear threatening, dangerous and hostile which get our fight/flight emotions to kick in and lure us to overreact.
  • Financial strategies often pursue increases in extrinsic rewards which spawn urges to maximize gain at all cost, regardless of looking greedy, short sighted or selfish to others.
  • Dating strategies often pursue an ideal mate that no human one can live up to which runs the emotional gamut from falling head over hills in love to crashing in rejection and realizations.
  • Persuasion strategies often try to "put on over on the buyer" by manipulating their gullible impressions which fuels the urges to be superior, arrogant, controlling and abusive.
  • Production strategies often deal with scheduling, budget and deadline pressures which raise anxiety levels and spawn emotionally satisfying coping mechanisms or shortcuts.
  • Tournament strategies often face sudden death playoffs and elimination rounds which evoke desperate, survival instincts rather than wiser acceptance and confidence.
  • Military strategies often orchestrate retaliatory strikes against enemies to bring the fight to their turf and teach them an unforgettable lesson without regard to the consequences.
We need to realize how susceptible we are to stirring up our unreliable emotions. We need to discern the difference between our irrational urges provoked by the situation and our reliable feelings which arise when we're balanced, centered and self aware. We can then challenge how we've become emotional rather than follow those urges, skewed perceptions and flawed strategies.


Getting into strategy reformulation

When we've adopted a flawed strategy, we won't realize our error until we examine the outcomes of our strategy playing out in its context. It's anybody's guess whether a strategy is effective until 'the votes come in". However, the odds of formulating an effective strategy are greatly improved by improving our frame of mind. Likewise, we can estimate that a strategy will prove to be flawed when our state of mind is unfavorable for getting a good read on the situation, responding insightfully to challenges and predicting consequences accurately.

Once we realize our strategy needs reformulating, we can sabotage taking that step with the same mental state which formulates flawed strategies in the first place. If we imagine a realm of strategy reformulation to get into, we're inclined to not go there when we're in the realm of flawed strategies. The space appears to be marked with warning signs like "Danger-Keep Out!, much like the space for disruptive innovation. As I played around with this possibility this morning, I imagined seven different entrances to the realm of strategy reformulation. Each of these portals involve a change of mind I've explored before and linked to here. Briefly, let's take a tour of those transitions from outsider to insider:

When we're making a show of effort and commitment, we want an "A" for effort. We hope it's good enough to be trying to succeed. We're anxious to get others approval before we've met the goal and delivered on the promise. In the realm of strategy reformulation, we're learning from feedback. We need the results to revise our approach, rethink our premises and update our estimates.

When we indulging in binary thinking, the facts cannot be both true and false. Our strategies cannot be effective and ineffective. We cannot be right and wrong. Everything is either/or, not both/and. When we come inside the state of mind for reformulation, we're receptive to benefiting from paradoxes. We're eager to find ways to be doing both sides of the polarity.

When we're convinced of the answers, we have "no further questions your Honor". We're done cross examining the situation or inquiring into questionable evidence. When we enter the realm of strategy reformulation, we are taking a broader perspective. We realize there's a scarcity of good questions which makes it worth our while to uncover them.

When we're producing deliveries, we preoccupied with our workload. Our deploying left brain cognitive strategies like "ready-fire-aim". We got a job to get done which precludes distractions or rethinking our approach. On the inside, we switch brain strategies from left to right, reductionistic to holistic. We naturally are making discoveries, coming to new conclusions and revising our outlooks.

When we're looking after our own interests, we assume we're in control. We're in a position to indoctrinate others and act as if we've got the one right answer. When we change our minds, we show an interest in others' interests. We choose to be effective instead of being right. We realize what we're good at can serve others if we show how much we care.

When we're closed minded, we cannot respect others or formulate strategies they will value. We make enemies of customers, rivals out of colleagues and threats out of allies. When we come inside the realm of strategy reformulation, our minds open up. We allow for contradictions to upgrade when we know. We realize we've only got one side of the story or half of the truth until we open up to what's missing. We start coming from a place of wonder.

When we're caught up in a bubble, we're asking for trouble. We've become over-confident, conceited and condescending. To enter the realm of strategy reformulation, we need to get off our high horse, bite the dust or eat some humble pie. Our come down will do us good as well as others who need us to relate to them, understand them and help them solve their problems.

You may have already realized, these changes of mind call for strategies in themselves. Those that need the change in mind are not in the frame of mind to formulate effective strategies. Without strategy advisors or guidelines, more flawed strategies will get formulated.


Thinking you've got no strategy

Sometimes we really have no strategy. All we have are tactics, methods and activities that do no good. We're spinning our wheels, going through the motions getting nowhere. We look busy but have nothing to show for our efforts.

Other times, we think we have no strategy when we really are using strategies. We assume we don't have one because we did not think it up deliberately or consciously chose our strategy. When you're thinking you've got no strategy, first look for:
  • changes that have occurred
  • outcomes that have been realized
  • results that have been produced
  • differences that have been made
  • deals that have been worked out
  • successes that have been accomplished
  • solutions that have been used

Then consider how any of those happened:
  • Was there more than one way to accomplish it?
  • Was a particular approach taken that differed from other ways to get it done?
  • Was it difficult or opposed in some way that needed to be overcome?
  • Did the situation require some adaptation or responsiveness to varied conditions?
  • Did the effort depend on special abilities, desires or experiences?

A strategy is how it happened that a result occurred. You've got a strategy anytime there's been a change, whether or not you think you've got a strategy. When there's been no change, you either have no strategy or a flawed strategy that does not work for you to get that change. Then there's lots of strategic thinking to do to get the change that's desired.


Dolphins teach us strategic thinking

Dudley Lynch's 1988 book: The Strategy of the Dolphin reveals the ways dolphins can team up to kill a shark. It shows us that the more ferocious predator can be beat by a superior strategy. Here's some of the insights I've used from that book when formulating strategies and teaching strategic thinking:

A shark can kill a dolphin just like most other sea creatures that it feeds upon. A shark has a strength that diminishes the threat of most creatures of equal size: its sharp teeth and powerful jaw. Most any creature will become a shark’s prey if it goes “head to head” the shark’s formidable resource.

Dolphins can kill a shark. To do so, they think and act strategically. They do not go “head to head” to conquer the it by getting in the shark's face. They use the fact that the shark’s greatest strength is also its weakness. The dolphins lack of ferocious jaws of sharp teeth also proves how an apparent shortcoming can function as a strategic advantage.

Several dolphins gather around the shark, facing it. They begin chirping to confuse and distract the shark from a single focus. One dolphin then swims circles around the shark, never stopping in front of the teeth. When the timing is right, the dolphin stops and rams the unguarded flank of the shark. After several successful flank attacks, the internal hemorrhaging sinks the shark to the bottom of the sea.

Dolphins are great examples of how to think strategically:
  • They see an opportunity where others (carp) only see a threat.
  • They realize the game is won by superior thinking, not by physical prowess.
  • They use timing to their own advantage instead of letting the rival dictate the tempo.
  • They avoid direct confrontations that pit strengths against strengths
  • They take advantage (leverage) the way the rival’s strength is a weakness
  • They utilize an indirect approach which flank attacks at opportune moments.
  • They utilize deception, confusion and distraction to give themselves more opportunities.
  • They form alliances with others to create an unmanageable situation for the rival.

Simultaneously, dolphins teach us how a “shark mentality” is not strategic:
  • Sharks are tactically fixated on a single objective, losing sight of the mission, winning battles but not the war
  • Sharks function with tunnel vision or blinders that miss the big picture
  • Sharks are overly confident in their successes and strengths
  • Sharks are relying on their strengths rather than addressing their weaknesses, unguarded flanks, flawed strategy, vulnerability to deceptions
  • Sharks use intimidation tactics that effective strategists see through and use to their own advantage
In other words, when faced with threats from rivals, things are not as they appear. Getting a good read on imposing, dangerous or threatening situations calls for some serious strategic thinking.


Thinking about your strategy

We need a strategy when we want to make a change in our lives. We need a strategy to overcome any obstacle we're facing or to take advantage of opportunities we uncovered. We need a strategy get others on board with what we're changing. We even need a strategy to change the strategy we're deploying. Having all these needs for a strategy does not mean you've got one.

It's possible you have no strategy at all. If you're consumed by what you're doing, all you have is your tactics, methods and activities. That means when there's something that's not right, all you can do is try harder to make it right. You're limited to doing what you're doing. You're acting as if there is nothing else that could be done or no other ways to do it.

It's possible you have strategy but don't know what it is. This occurs when there are many possible approaches to situation, but you're dwelling on one in particular. It's obvious to others what you've chosen, prioritized, ruled out and avoided. You're actions speak louder than your words about your strategy if the two contradict each other.

It's possible you have two strategies: an explicit and an implicit strategy. This happens when we're telling people what they want to hear while doing what really works that they don't want to accept. It also occurs when we idealize some strategy that impresses others while our motivation problems interfere with getting anything done. We espouse our explicit strategy to convince ourselves and others. We deploy our implicit strategy to get things done.

It's possible you have a flawed strategy. If you're not getting the results you want after enough time, effort and exploration, it's likely your strategy is ill-conceived. Your strategy may be built upon flawed assumptions about how others will respond to your imposition, how the intended changes will play out among opposing interests or how your own abilities will face up to the challenges. Your tactics, methods and activities may be executed flawlessly, but get undermined by your faulty assumptions.

It's possible your strategy is too much of good thing and backfires from it's excesses. Strategies can be too direct or indirect and too pushy or not imposing enough. Strategies need to appraise present circumstances realistically without becoming so troubled that visionary possibilities get shot down. Likewise, strategies can become so imaginative and far fetched that they lose touch with reality and thus connect with no one.

It's possible you have an effective strategy. It makes good use of what you bring to the table. Your strategy perceptively reads the situation and gives you insights for creative maneuvers. It presumes to have lots more to learn from further inquiries, explorations and experiments. It questions its own assumptions and seeks verification or revisions as situations develop further. It balances the potential extremes and aligns the explicit/ implicit pairs of strategies. Your strategy sets things up so some of the desired changes simply fall into place. In this case, your thinking about your strategy is also effective.


Moving between brain states

For the past week, I've been connecting the model of five Brain States from Wired for Joy with my own models. It's occurred to me that we move productively between brain states, as well as go directly to Joy/Brain State One. As I pondered that possibility, here's the framework I developed:

When we're in Brain State 2, we're feeling good. Our thinking and feeling processes are balanced. We're getting our needs met, in part because our feelings provide reliable guidance and self motivation. Our relating with others proves to be mutually beneficial, validating and encouraging. There are times when these experiences might suddenly disappear. Thinking might become excessive and leave us feeling bored, exhausted and stressed. Our needs may stop getting met or even recognized as valid needs. Our feelings might become unreliable, anxious and urgent. Our relating may become one-sided, taxing and discouraging.

When such losses occur, one option is to use the Feelings Check Tool to restore Brain State 1. We could also upgrade our thinking down in Brain State 3 to get back everything we were experiencing in Brain State 2. It's likely that we relying on flawed reasoning in Brain State 3 which needs upgrading. We could restore the balance between our thinking and feeling by:
  • complicating what we think is the one right answer with two ways to go about it, two situations that call for it or two premises for considering if it's right
  • realizing the thing we're dwelling on is also a process with a life of its own which is moving toward an unpredictable future by involving many other factors
  • taking the facts that upset us into the realm of varied perceptions and attributions, subjective frames of reference and stories to be told about the facts
  • considering what's missing in our one sided explanation, how to integrate the opposite approach or how to do both instead of only one or the other

When we're in Brain State 3, we're "a little stressed". We're trying to live up to some ideals and to realize some goals. We're keeping up appearances and seeking others' approval. We're thinking our emotions will get us into trouble if we flip our lid, follow those urges or take out our frustrations on others. To maintain the necessary self control, we indulge in rigid thinking and adversarial tactics to keep others in line. These experiences might suddenly disappear if we became ambushed by unexpected setbacks, embarrassments or confrontations. We may get a hot button pushed which leaves us feeling betrayed and exposed as a pretentious fake. We may sabotage our own ambitions with lurking inhibitions, blockages and fixations. We may become possessed by embarrassing and unproductive moods. We may indulge in regrettable outbursts, proclamations or revelations.

When any of these changes come over us, we can use the Emotional Housecleaning Tool to get back to Brain State 1. We could also upgrade our self concept, goals and projects by:
  • exploring the scenario of meeting with widespread disapproval and discovering what we value in ourselves regardless of others' opinions
  • considering the possibility of a blatant failure at living up to imposed expectations in order to uncover deeper, more respectful expectations we harbor for ourselves
  • writing out the passionate rejection, condemnation or indictment of others to get it out of our system before burning up the paper it's written on
  • taking a break to do something worthless, unimpressive or even disgraceful to dismantle our own perfectionistic hidden agendas

With this framework in mind, we have more choices of where to go from an undesired Brain State. There's work we can do that leaves us in better shape for future enjoyments. We become less of a burden to ourselves and others while restoring what we experience as beneficial in Brain States 2 & 3.


Leapfrogging into joy

Laurel Mellin has given us a wonderful gift with her Cycle Tool for use in Brain State 4. Wired for Joy shows us a way to leapfrog over Brain States 3 and 2 directly into 1. We can catapult our emotional state from feeling stressed, needy and upset to feeling joyful, serene and compassionate. By realizing the stress circuit is open when we're in Brain State 4, we can uncover the unreasonable expectation which sponsors our troublesome, emotional reactions. Through a process of grinding in a reasonable expectation, considering the pain of it and its rewards, a profound mood-shift occurs. A feeling of joy dawns on our minds which have found no prior escape from overwhelming anxieties.

Another tool for leapfrogging into joy was given to us by Connirae and Tamara Andreas in their 1994 book: Core Transformation. I'm personally aware of this tool working for people in Brain State 5. It works with very dark urges without judgment or control. The process explores desires that arise after the previous one gets imagined to be fulfilled. Fortunately, the initial, cold blooded, vengeful desires evolve into a state of the Core States of Being, Inner Peace, Love, OKness and Oneness. Like the Cycle Tool, Core Transformation can be used independently.

Once we're in Brain State 1, Wired for Joy advises us to use the Sanctuary Tool. We connect with a safe place within and then feel compassion for others and our own bodies, selves and surroundings. We can expect a surge of joy from this process.

There are several other approaches to this Brain State that I've used for years with delightful results. Here's four that I would include in an expanded "Sanctuary Tool":

Counting our blessings: When we adopt an attitude of gratitude, our mood shifts. We realize how abundant we are right now, fully equipped for the present challenge. We notice how we've been answered, supplied and supported. We see how much of our lives are working in our favor, functioning adequately and getting things done that we need to be accomplished.

Facing the mystery: When we disrupt our chronic need to be right, in the know and on top of the situation, we can open to what we don't already know. We can wonder about different ways to get something done, the best timing for it, how much to do, what to keep in balance, what combinations might work better and what it might mean for us personally. When we take this approach, life seems much more mysterious. We become like children filled with curiosity, questions and fascination. We can enjoy our inability to predict the future, know the answer or be in control of what happens.

Expanding our awareness: When we take our attention off the task at hand, there's much more to let in. We can extend our eyesight as far as we can see. We can listen to sounds in the distance. We can smell our surroundings and heighten our sense of what is touching our skin. This approach can give us an oceanic feeling of oneness with everything. We enjoy an inclusive embrace of "all in all" without judgment, restrictions or fears.

Losing track of time: When we disrupt our thinking about our past and future, we can fall into the present moment with pleasure. We can immerse ourselves in the immediate experience of being here and now. We can "stop the world" and start what has no history to remember and no future to consider. No thinking is required whenever we're consumed by the present moment.


Situating Wired for Joy

I am very impressed with the EBT model presented in Wired for Joy by Laurel Mellin. One way to convey how valuable I'm finding this book is to situate it among four other outstanding books in the therapeutic field. Wired for Joy replicates or improves on successes in these other approaches to changing our minds, moods and behaviors.

It's easy to produce temporary change that snaps back to the status quo after a interim show of improvement. This was defined as "first order change" in the seminal book: Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution. Wired for Joy avoids this pitfall superbly. Making change at the neurological level produce lasting change (second order change). the EBT model makes a change in how change happens from merely understanding the problem in a better way, getting advice on solutions or agreeing to try something different. Making the change for oneself sets up an enduring improvement, unlike attempting to change via dependency on a professional therapist, surrogate parent or wise elder. The second order change also occurs because Wired for Joy realizes how the change is stressful to an already stressed out mind and how our emotions need our acceptance as well as strenuous upgrades.

When the tools in Wired for Joy get successfully applied, people experience a "pop"; a felt shift in their mood. This experience suggests a change in neuropeptide production as well. This reminds me of "third and fourth order changes" defined in Depth Oriented Brief Therapy. These profound experiences do not occur when a therapist makes a pathological diagnosis of the symptomatic problem or the client gets stuck complaining and trying to get rid of that problem. The transformation of outlook, self concept and worldview occurs when the "pro-symptom stance" gets understood and accepted. The "emotional truth of the symptom" comes to the surface, resonates deeply and evokes a feeling of relief that the underlying impulses make sense in their own context.

When we suffer from over-reacting to provocations or getting consumed by compulsive urges, we identify with the problem. We think "I am this", not "I have this problem" or "this happens to me sometimes". One of the breakthroughs in Narrative Therapy occurs when the client externalizes the problem. They consider "what gets into me sometimes" and "what does it want". They tell a different story about what happens without their being the problem. This also occurs within the EBT model. Users of these tools realize "it's only a wire" and "this too shall pass". Getting wired for stress is something that happens to everyone. Getting wired for joy is something that can happen to anyone who chooses to upgrade their brain circuits.

Back in the eighties, a new approach to psychological interventions emerged called "brief therapy". It was repeatedly shown that significant results could be produced in six weeks that had not been realized in five years of conventional therapy. Some of the practitioners became alarmed that they were falling into the trap of telling clients how to live, rather than empowering clients to live as they choose. Wired for Joy escapes this trap by giving clients the tools for each brain state and the framework for identifying their current brain state. Users of the EBT model are effectively empowered to resolve their issues on their own schedule with their own motivations.

Wired for Joy draws a distinction between hedonic and eudonic pleasures. This parallels the difference between "pleasure worlds" and "quality worlds" in Choice Theory. William Glasser's research into addictive behaviors found the people were not getting their need for authentic relationships met. This lack of congruence resulted from getting controlled, manipulated and isolated, which then produced symptomatic behaviors. The lures of pleasure worlds became addictive because the need to compensate for deprivations was incessant. When authentic relating replaces getting controlled, their other needs get met, their intrinsic pleasures seem more fulfilling and they felt much more congruent. Wired for Joy also captures these upgrades in relationships and the switch to getting personal needs met according to reliable feelings (in Brain State 2).

As I've made all these connections between my reading of Wired for Joy and some of my other favorite books, I've found all these ways to appreciate the high quality of the EBT approach. I'm also finding facets of the approach I would do differently with the intention of making it even more effective and accessible. (to be continued)


Changing brain states

Over the weekend, I finished reading Laurel Mellin's new book: Wired for Joy - A Revolutionary Method for Creating Happiness Within. I was delighted to discover such an effective use of cognitive neuroscience to solve chronic psychological problems. Her research found a taxonomy of brain states which matches up perfectly with all my taxonomies and relational grammars. Here's a brief overview of her model for varied brain states and how it matches up with mine.

Brain State 5: Stressed Out! - Psychotic
When our brain stem/reptile brain has taken control of our conduct, we are functioning instinctually. Our survival is at stake and our minds are scrambling to avoid falling into a pit of total despair, anxiety and overwhelm. We have no qualms about doing harm to others as they don't seem real to us. We're getting treated like we're not real to them. We're simply nobodies in particular among other nobodies. We seem cold blooded to others and appear to be dehumanizing them. Experts might diagnose us as "psychotic" since we're desperate, unaware of our condition and filled with urges to handle our situation without thinking.

Brain State 4: Definitely Stressed - Narcissistic
When our limbic system has taken control of our conduct, we are functioning emotionally and irrationally. Our safety is at stake and our minds are overwhelmed by anxiety, worries and stress. We cling to others like puppy dogs, take people as our hostages, and treat them like our possessions. We're anxiously trying to appear as a somebody, even though it feels fake because we continue to feel like nobody of significance. We overcompensate for how worthless we feel by showing off, stealing the spotlight and insisting on being the center of attention. Experts might diagnose us as "narcissistic" since we're manipulative, perfectionistic and exhibitionistic.

Brain State 3: A Little Stressed- Neurotic
When the cortisone level in the blood stream moderates, we can think about our situation endlessly. We indulge in over-thinking, analysis paralysis and unfeeling rationality. We make ourselves miserable with "all head & no heart" financial commitments or social obligations. We then overcompensate for such costly sacrifices with pleasures from the material world. We over-consume, over-accumulate and over-spend to our wounded heart's content. Experts might diagnose us as "neurotic" for chasing after symbolic pleasures which offer no real satisfaction or value.

Brain State 2: Feeling Good - Humbled
When feeling and thinking are in balance, our feelings become reliable guides. We've transitioned from emotions to feelings. We realize what we need to feel congruent and then get a feeling about how to proceed and an inspiration for what to do next. We cultivate a sense of others' interests and feelings without merging with them or losing track of our own. It's no longer only about us. We feel good about serving others, caring for their needs and making a difference in others' lives. We've switched from those materialistic, hedonic pleasures to the eudonic pleasures that money cannot buy. Experts might diagnose us as "humbled" since we've abandoned our ego trips, power trips and attempts to exalt ourselves.

Brain State 1: Feeling Great! - Awakened
When the present moment seems perfect as is, we're filled with joy, inner peace and love. Our peptide production has totally switched over to pleasure chemicals from stressors. We're thinking "Yes! Bring it on, Thanks! and More please!" instead of "no, yuk, thanks for nothing and stop it". Time stands still while the moment absorbs all of our attention. We lose our selves and find how life is mysteriously fascinating.

With these five brain states defined, it becomes possible to change our minds significantly. Each state calls for a different tool to break up the routine and introduce added complexity. In other words, there's more to explore in my next post about "Wired for Joy".


Starting where they're at

When we're poised to spew some propaganda, we're in no mood to deal with wherever the audience is at. We're anxious to cover all the material before the time is up. It's not a problem if we take off without the passengers on board. We're functioning like an airline that gets to the destination on time without anyone enjoying a "moving experience".

To doctor this kind of indoctrination, we need to start where the audience is at, not where we're at. They'll get on board when it appears they can personally relate to what is being presented. The presentation will fly for them:
  • if It looks like it's making sense to their frames of reference
  • it speaks their language, lingo and buzzwords
  • if It appears it can apply to their situation, troubled context or crisis
  • if it offers pragmatic solutions to the problems they're facing

When we succeed at starting where they are at, where we're coming from becomes their destination. We offer a travel package that expedites their journey from their understanding to our own. We show them the way to get out of their state of mind into another state. We offer a path from their being part of a problem to becoming part of the solution. We guide their transition from a stuck place to a place of being effective, successful and respectable.

When we start where they're at, we're practicing empathy. We're speaking their minds, walking in their moccasins and seeing situations through their eyes. We've got their backs and stand behind what they're trying to accomplish. We coming from the place they're coming from to get started on a shared journey.

If we're successful at getting others on board, they will say they felt moved by the presentation. They will frame their experience as getting transported or taken to a better place. They will look back on where they started from with a new perspective. The propaganda will have been transformed into travel itineraries.


Repositioning the preaching

When we're being preachy, there's only on place we can come from. We appear to be stuck in a location that offers no other vantage points. We've somehow become a prisoner of the ideas we're espousing. We've fixated on some doctrine, truth or right answer. Within this place, there's no two ways about it and no flip side to explore.

Anytime an idea has taken us captive, we are surrounded by other places. We can go to those conceptual locations once we see where we're at and where we're coming from as we communicate with others. We can then reposition ourselves amidst many other possibilities. Here's some examples:

When we're coming from a place of "one right answer", we can go to other positions of:
  • it ain't necessarily so because the actual right answer depends on other factors
  • it's true some of the time but not always
  • it's the right answer under a particular set of circumstances
When we're coming from a place of "let me tell you what to think", we can go to other positions of:
  • having listened to others concerns, I've been thinking more deeply
  • incorporating what others have considered, I've changed my mind
  • seeing how it looks to other viewpoints, I now see what's missing in my outlook
When we're coming from a place of "I'm the better expert", we can go to other positions of:
  • others know the situation better than I do
  • without others' familiarity with using this, my expertise is useless
  • others are better experts at how this comes across to varied frames of reference

When we're coming from a place of "my way of seeing rules", we can go to other positions of:
  • how you see things will also see my viewpoint differently than I do
  • how you look at this incorporates your experiences with it which differ from my own
  • how you picture this will also picture me seeing it differently than you do
Repositioning our own preaching in these ways gives others a much better impression. We transition from being preachy to being considerate and self aware. We come across as "one of us" instead of "some hot shot talking to them". We get beyond making our point to making a difference with those we want to serve.


When acceptance is a tough sale

We occasionally ask people to accept a change that seems to us like an easy sale. They are already eager, willing and able to accept the change. For instance:
  • changes in policies which allow them more personal discretion and freedom to accommodate their unique circumstances
  • changes in requirements which lighten their workload and help them get other things done
  • changes in assignments which enable them to work with their favorite people or show up at a time that works best for them
  • changes in rewards which give them more recognition for what they've accomplished as well as satisfaction with the reward itself

Most often, we're asking people to accept a change which seems like a tough sale. They are predisposed to oppose it, resent it and possibly even obstruct it. For example:
  • making a personal sacrifice to compensate for a financial setback or downturn in the overall economy
  • making time to work with a unskilled new hire, an antiquated machine or a location with insufficient resources
  • making an adjustment that changes personal habits, increases the chances of failure or expose their previously undisclosed limitations
  • making greater effort to cover for others who seem to be slacking off, negligent or lacking in initiative

The sales pitches we typically make to get acceptance of an unwelcome change usually come across as indoctrination. We attempting to override what they are already thinking and pressure them into changing their minds. We're resisting what they're inclined to value and feeding a vicious cycle of conflict. We're implicitly telling them "you're wrong and I'm right" which sets them up to feel wronged, misunderstood and devalued.

The way I've found to doctor this kind of indoctrination is one I enjoy. Rather than try to sell others on acceptance of an unwelcome change, I've found it works to switch to wondering about this situation which seems to require that change. Here's some of the many facets of any situation to wonder about:
  1. You may be wondering what other alternatives there are to this change that's hard to accept, including what will happen if we do nothing.
  2. I'm wondering why this change became necessary now, instead of much earlier and with more advance warning.
  3. You might be wondering what could have been done to prevent the need for this change and who could have accomplished that for all of us.
  4. I'm wondering what other connections are influencing our situation and possibly keeping it from being even worse or forcing us to make this change.
  5. You may be wondering who's responsible for letting this happen, whether they can be blamed and how much you can be left off the hook.
  6. I'm wondering what's lined up in our near future that may require even bigger changes unless we do something we not even considering right now.
  7. You may be wondering whether this is a question of a change in attitude or effort that could make the big difference in getting through this with a minimum of pain.
  8. I'm wondering if I'm setting an example of one who can handle this challenge or someone who's looking for ways to make the challenge go away.

All this wondering opens the space for considering the change with less fear, opposition and negative emotions. Questions of wonder fire up the right brain which is non-judgmental, creative and fascinated by new challenges. With an audience thinking about what-if?, why not? and how could I contribute?, the tough sale of acceptance just got a lot easier.


Morphing knowing into questions

There's lots of knowledge that does not come across as indoctrination or propaganda when someone gets told to "know this":
  • Knowledge of facts like the state capital of California (Sacramento) or the name of the fifth hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean this year (Earl)
  • Knowledge of techniques like how to change the default font in a web browser or how to play F# on a double bassoon
  • Knowledge of consequences like what happens after you open a door marked "Fire Exit Only" or after you drive a car when the fuel gauge already reads "empty"
  • Knowledge of patterns like recognizing the signs that it's nighttime in your time zone or winter in your hemisphere
However, there's lots of knowledge that usually provokes defensiveness, objections and closed minds because it comes across as indoctrination:
  • Knowledge of moral imperatives to obey like the "right way" to act or "the only" ethical approach to a situation
  • Knowledge of stances to adopt like the opinionated positions argued by political candidates or the selective claims made by attorneys during courtroom proceedings
  • Knowledge of theories to embrace like why the current global recession is persisting or for why the college dropout rate is increasing
  • Knowledge of recommendations to follow like an advised change in a strategy to get different results or a suggested change in a diagnosis to alleviate chronic symptoms
When we're delivering content, making presentations or otherwise being informative, we rarely consider ourselves to be indoctrinating our audiences. We simply want others to know what we know. We assume we can think alike and reach the same conclusions. We fail to realize how the receiving end is taking offense when no offense was intended.

Whenever I've learned that my well-intended pronouncements have come across as indoctrination, I consider morphing what I'm expecting others to know into questions. When I succeed at making that translation, the receiving end becomes more receptive. Defenses get lowered and minds open up. Questions seem to have the opposite effect from telling people what to know. The answers to the questions provides what they need to know.

Here are some of the key points I've just made translated into questions I ask myself:
  1. I question whether all the information I present is the acceptable which says that any defensiveness on the receiving end is completely unjustified?
  2. I wonder if I am being shown something I can change when it appears that I have provoked my audience to become closed minded?
  3. I question whether I'm failing to make a distinction between information that is easy to accept and information that is likely to be found objectionable?
  4. I wonder what alternatives there are to telling people what they need to know which might open their minds and lower their defenses?
  5. I question whether people can appreciate being guided to their own realizations instead of getting bombarded by a sage on stage?
  6. I wonder if my presentation strategy is actually too straightforward which suggests that I could take a more indirect approach?
As you ask these questions of yourself and formulate some answers, you will know something about morphing knowing into questions.


Getting others to stop themselves

There are many occasions when we feel the urge to tell others "stop that". Here's a few examples to keep this exploration feeling real:
  • Stop making a nuisance of yourself in ways that are testing others' patience
  • Stop running over budget and behind schedule before we lose the customer, project or reputation we've worked hard to earn
  • Stop violating the rules, policies and laws we all must obey
  • Stop sabotaging your own success with your lack of ambition, organization and practice
  • Stop making excuses and blaming others for not getting the job done
  • Stop before you fall into that trap or you step onto that slippery slope
  • Stop looking down on us as if you're better than the rest of us
When we feel that urge to say "stop that", we are afraid of what will occur if we don't say "stop". We thinking of consequences with our usual worries, apprehensions and dread. We are relying on dichotomous reasoning where the only options are saying "stop" or "go" and saying something or being silent.

Those in apparent need of being told "stop" may welcome the cautionary advice. However, most of the time, they will resent it. They will hear the "stop message" as propaganda, preachy advice and unwelcome interference. This is yet another situation where the indoctrination needs some doctoring.

I've found it helpful to think out loud about the possible reasons the others are not stopping themselves. Their motives get regarded as mysterious and fascinating to me. The others usually get to wondering about themselves along with me. They value my indirect approach of not telling them to stop while I find lots to ponder, rather than dismissing them as hopeless, lost causes.

I also find a way to give them "go messages" in contradiction to the "stop messages" they're expecting. To do that, I need to perceive a process deeper than their conduct which begs to be stopped. I can then trust their underlying process and show them ways the process will work things out for the better. Here are some processes that often run deeper than any "behavior without brakes":
  1. exploring the limits and seeing how far they can push things before someone pushes back
  2. waiting for someone whose been ignoring them to say something or show an interest in them for a change
  3. begging for an argument or confrontation in order to experience themselves as confident, powerful and independent
  4. showing off to boost their flagging confidence and to overcome some nagging insecurities
  5. losing their perspective of the big issues they cannot impact while becoming obsessed with details they can control directly
  6. antagonizing some deserving control freak, power tripper or bully who shows no empathy, genuine concern or compassion
  7. trying prove themselves as equal or better than someone they admire and often imitate their approach to situations

Each of these processes eventually reach a conclusion. It finds a place of having enough, being ready for change, and wanting more variety of experiences. When this place is discovered, the people will naturally stop themselves. They don't need to be told to stop when these processes underly their conduct, they need those processes trusted to come to their own conclusions.