This is a true story about a someone we’ll call Chris, even though that’s not his real name. This case offers tidbits about how we generate swift transformational change using human-centric leading tools.
Chris is a 32-year-old man with a strong mind and big heart. He wants to do great things but has been frustrated by a work pattern/career that left him dissatisfied. While he knew he was unhappy, he didn’t know what to do next. He was anxious of taking a “wrong” next step, which left him paralyzed until we met.
Chris’ Starting State
To describe Chris’ starting state, we use triads. They represent skeletal versions of the internal architecture of the human experience and show how thoughts, feelings and behavior are inter-dependent; you change one and the other two follow. Triads are easy tools used within human-centric leading to understand oneself or someone else within a specific context.
The triad Chris had when he started looked like this:
We knew that Chris didn’t like his existing triad, yet wondered why he hadn’t changed it long ago. After observing himself and how he spent his time and energy at work and home, this pattern emerged:
As a result of his triads, Chris was always mopping up the floor rather than fixing the dripping sink.
He was mired in details that never ended. Even though he worked hard to get things done, nothing seemed to ever finish because peoples’ problems and unmet responsibilities were always pouring in. He could never feel accomplished from finishing everyone’s problems; there was no end.
From a young boy, Chris had taken on the role of mopping things up and everyone at home depended on it. Without realizing it, Chris took that role into adulthood and found people at work who loved his mopping skills, hence, constantly giving him more things to clean up.
On one hand, Chris felt powerful from fixing things that others couldn’t. He liked making people happy by reducing their pain or solving their problems by either doing what they hadn’t done or what they wanted him to do. On the other hand, he felt burdened and exhausted by that role and wanted change.
But, how would he change? His family, friends and colleagues were used to him playing that role. His boss even promoted him because he’d been so good at it. If he stopped mopping, what would happen?
We adopt roles in life from our family experiences.
Psychologist Harriet Lerner taught us that we take on experiences or habits from our parents without even realizing it. For instance, if our mother became depressed at 40 years old, it would be no surprise if we became depressed at 40 years old, as well. If we used to be the one creating order in the home, for example, there’d be no surprise if we’d also organized things at work. Lerner taught us that there are inter-generational familial patterns going on in the subconscious mind that affect what we think, feel and do. They continue ad infinitum unless we deliberately alter their course of action.
Exercise: If you care to identify your familial roles, make a table with all the members of your family and chart out what everyone is “allowed” or “supposed” to do. For example, in my family, my role was to make people feel better and when anyone felt bad, it was my job to turn that around. I did so by being silly, entertaining or coaching them into feeling better. This went on for decades without my awareness. When I became aware of this role, I stopped offering unsolicited advice and limited how often I rescued people from their own emotional experiences, which freed up a lot of time and energy. I then chose how to respond rather than feel like I had to play that role to be worthy of love or respect.
Turning Things Around
When I asked Chris what would happen if he stopped mopping the floor, this triad surfaced:
This triad shows that Chris had linked his identity or self-worth with specific behavior, locking him into a role that limited him in ways that he no longer accepted.
My invitation to Chris was to expand his identity by separating himself from his behavior and outcomes. We’re all bigger than our job, roles or behavior.
Chris’ New State
Chris role had created enough pain to provide the courage to leap into a dramatically different way of being. He designed this following triad by thinking about how he wanted to feel and which thoughts and behavior would support those feelings:
By using his new triad, Chris’ results changed quickly.
Coaching people with curiosity came easily to him and it felt a lot better than fixing everyone’s problems himself. Within a week, he received positive feedback from his colleagues informing him that their chats helped them think things through that led to new ideas. On top of that, within a month or so, Chris got a raise and was sent on a business trip that was a rare treat.
Ok — while all this was good and well, how is Chris going to maintain his new triad when family, friends and his boss were used to him mopping up their problems?
Tune in next week to find out what Chris did. If you’d like to get the next update automatically, subscribe to our blog here.
Feature photo from Freepik