I recently read a book titled Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. It was a fantastic and insightful read and one which I highly recommend. One of the most interesting points the authors make when describing the nature of change is this: What seems like a people problem is often a situation problem. The authors go on to describe dozens of examples in which individuals have been stymied in their attempts to affect change when they sought to change individuals rather than their situation. One study cited involved a group of people who were told they were part of a movie screening. In truth, the study was related to eating habits and sought to answer the simple question: Will people given larger portions eat more than people given smaller portions? Every member of the audience was given their own bucket of popcorn, either a large one, or an extra large one (in fact, both bucket sizes purposely contained more popcorn than could be consumed by a single person). The results showed that people, in fact, do eat more when given a larger inexhaustible supply than they do when given a smaller inexhaustible supply. They ate more because there was more, not because they were hungrier, less concerned with their health, or any other personal reason. If you want to eat less, put your food on a smaller plate. See also:
It’s interesting to think about the power of our environment and its affect on us and I agree with the Heath brothers that managers, teachers, leaders, and, well, anyone would do well to recognize when that should be the focus of our efforts, but that’s actually not what this post is about.
How many times have you caught yourself thinking: My life would be so much better if I lived [somewhere else], or I’d be so much happier if I only had a significant other, or I wouldn’t be so stressed/angry/sad if only… It’s so tempting and easy to think that we can change something inside us by addressing something outside. Consider the tale of the man who, amidst a power loss in his home, misplaced his keys somewhere in the living room. Instead of groping around inside in the dark, he decided to look outside under a street lamp for the missing keys. It sounds silly, but how often do we do the same thing?
I came across a fascinating analogy recently while watching a presentation by Wayne Dyer. He asked, “What do you get when you squeeze an orange?” The answer, of course, is orange juice. It doesn’t matter how you apply force to the orange, or where the pressure comes from, what comes out is what has always been inside. Likewise, when pressure is applied to us, what comes out is what has always been inside. Take the example given in the above video: you’re driving in traffic and are suddenly cut-off. How do you react, but more importantly, why do you react that way? Are you angry? Is it the other driver’s fault? Pressure has been applied to your situation, but I contend that it doesn’t matter where the pressure came from, your reaction, your feelings, your juice, is what was inside to begin with. It might not have been forced out if you hadn’t been cut off, sure. It would have stayed inside until some other pressure came and squeezed it out.
I don’t mean to stray too far from where I started. I do think that what we surround ourselves with makes a world of difference and that it is especially important to consider situational effects when contemplating others’ viewpoints (i.e. maybe the guy who cut you off isn’t a total jerk, he’s just in a hurry. After all, I know I’ve done my fair share of cutting others off and I don’t think I’m a jerk). However I think it is of equal importance, especially when considering our own behaviors, to pay attention to what we fill ourselves with because that’s the stuff that will be forced out of us when we would least like it to.
One of the great advantages I’ve discovered since starting the gratitude journal I mentioned in a previous post is that by consciously filling myself with gratitude, it spills out of me when I least expect it to. I was stressed about a work situation and found myself suddenly focused on the aspects of my job that I like and thankful to have a job at all. I was irritated at another driver in traffic and suddenly found myself thankful that I was not in a hurry and driving like a maniac. It might seem simple or silly, but I think it can make a big difference. If we reap what we sow, then it matters what is planted within ourselves. So, what kind of people juice are you going to be filled with?