Jim Cota

Taking Out the Mental Trash

I’m the Co-Founder and President of Rare Bird, an internet marketing firm. I’ve recently had the opportunity, if you will, to experience a pretty significant sea change in my world, and it allowed me the chance to reflect on how we react to changes of all kinds.

A few months ago, one of my business partners left the company after 18 years. He was the very definition of a key man: with me from the beginning, he was an integral part of the way we ran the business, the success we’ve had, and the decisions we made. When the opportunity to run a family business came up, he discussed it with several trusted advisors and decided to make the leap. From my perspective, it was the right choice, even though it would require huge changes for his entire family — not to mention being incredibly disruptive for Rare Bird.

But instead of viewing his change as frightening and harmful, I worked to eventually see the possibilities it afforded. By focusing on what we could become, I was able to alter my perception of the impact of his departure. I believe there are three key mental shifts that helped me turn trepidation into excitement:

1.  Accept that change is constant.

While you may have been doing the ‘same’ thing for awhile, maybe even at the ‘same’ place, a cursory examination will reveal that there’s very little about it that remains exactly the same.

After spending the last 20 years working with people to sell their products, services, and ideas on the internet, I can tell you that change is a constant companion. Year to year, week to week — even day to day — the technology and techniques and interpersonal dynamics are in a constant state of flux. Though my industry may be more dynamic than yours, I suspect you’re experiences are similar (dare I say, the same?).

2.  Change your perception to change your response.

Some people hate change. I feel for them. To me, that is a little like saying “some people hate breathing,” because it’s as much a part of our experience. Since it’s something unavoidable (and necessary), facing it with dread and trepidation is incredibly counter-productive. Instead, I believe we’re much better served by simply embracing the flux as a fact and working to make ourselves, our processes, and our businesses as adaptable as possible. As the Kairos team might say, we need to manage the change.

But here is where the difficulty lies. We are, after all, creatures of habit (many of them bad). We like familiarity, manifested in our surroundings and the path we take through ‘normal’ days. How many of us have our favorite pair of jeans or a sweatshirt that’s been part of the wardrobe for years? Even our language is sprinkled with references we all readily understand: comfort food and comfort zones, for example. Seeking comfort is part of our natural equilibrium, as we’re always moving back to a point of least resistance.

In fact, our responses to change are where the biggest threats and opportunities lie, leading us back to the importance of change management. I believe that how we think about change may be the determining factor for how we cope with it.

It would be hard to overstate how powerful our perceptions can be. If left to our own devices, I believe many of us work from a default position that focuses on how bad things can get. But if we work to alter this view, we can harness the power of visualizing success. We can see changes — even big scary ones — for what they really are: opportunities for renewal.

3. Get out of your own head.

Confirmation bias is the natural proclivity to favor those things that serve to support your existing point of view. Because most of us are not always right, confirmation bias can be a big problem. It makes it harder to see the truth, especially when the truth is ‘uncomfortable.’

Altering your perception is difficult work that requires constant vigilance. It can be incredibly helpful to have someone outside your own noggin talk through things with you, such as a coach, trusted advisor, CEO group, or (shameless plug) the fine folks at Kairos. By working with someone who cares about your success enough to be completely honest, you can participate in the fierce conversations that enable you to find new and, very likely, better strategies for progress.

Here’s a timely exercise that might illustrate both the problems with confirmation bias and the benefit of finding alternate viewpoints. As you’re aware, we’re currently in the middle of a very strange election cycle. There’s certainly change on the horizon, and it’s already manifesting itself in the candidates running for President.

Now, ask yourself: If the election were today, for whom would I vote? Got it? Great. Now, open a web browser and go to ISideWith.com and take the 10-minute quiz. When you finish, the site will tell you which candidate you’re most closely aligned with based on your position on the issues. You may find that the result is perfectly aligned with your initial answer. You might also find something very surprising. I did.

Turns out my own confirmation bias was interfering with my actual beliefs.

When I take away the trash that’s in my head, I see that the path forward is very different than I thought. And that’s a change I can get excited about. I challenge you to cast a vote for turning trepidation into excitement the next time change comes a callin’. And that’s not if. That’s when.

When You’re Ready:

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Email: ready@kairosconsulting.com