Read an Excerpt
You're Addicted to YOUWhy It's So Hard to Change—and What You Can Do About It
By Noah Blumenthal
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Noah Blumenthal
All right reserved.
Chapter OneStep 1
Identify Your Self-Addictions
Questions to get you started. What are the behaviors that get you in trouble? What are your key self-addictions?
I recently started working with two new clients. The first, Nicholas, was very excited about the coaching opportunity. He knew that coaching was in vogue and it made him feel cool. However, he had no real idea of how he wanted to use the opportunity. In fact, Nicholas struggled at the beginning of our work. I asked him a lot of questions and got lots of silence in return. It took a few sessions for him to figure out his goals for the coaching. Nicholas faced the formidable challenge of discovering the changes he wanted to make, personally and professionally.
The second client, Carmen, knew exactly what she wanted to do with our coaching time. She told me that she was completely preoccupied with how other people viewed her. At home she was constantly trying to keep up with the Joneses and maintain an image of perfection. At work she ingratiated herself to everyone and was incapable of taking any risks for fear of making a mistake and looking bad. She was ready from the first moment we sat down to charge into these challenges.
If you are like Nicholas, this chapter will help you to think through your opportunities for change and identify what you wish to work on for the remainder of this book. If you are like Carmen, this chapter will give you a chance to reflect on your change and ensure that you are on the right track. Even if you think you know exactly what you need to change, it is possible that you have missed the mark on what behavior would really be most beneficial for you to develop. What you think is important for you to change may be exactly on track, or it might be minor compared with other issues you face.
Whether you are reading this book because you know what you want to change or just because it seems interesting to you, this chapter will help you identify your core self-addictions that you will work on throughout the rest of the book.
How can you discover your self-addictions?
It's now time to identify the behaviors that you most wish to change. What are your self-addictions? What are the behaviors that have been so difficult to change in the past? What behaviors have hurt you at work? What do you do that gets you into trouble with your spouse? What do you do that frustrates you and leaves you kicking yourself for days? Perhaps you kick yourself too much and that is the addiction you wish to break. Whatever your addictions, now is the time to identify them and take the first steps towards changing.
There are three methods we will explore for becoming aware of your addictions:
Contrasting with others
Let's look at each of these in turn.
Contrasting With Others
Contrasting with others is simply recognizing some of the positive and admirable qualities in those around you and realizing that you would like to emulate them. That is what happened with me and my wife, Beatrice, when we first met. Beatrice opened my eyes to my own behavior because her behavior was so contrary to mine. We had been dating for only three or four weeks and were watching a baseball game in her living room. Ken Griffey, Jr. was up to bat and Beatrice was trying to impress me with her baseball knowledge. She said to me, "His father played baseball, too, didn't he?" She was referring to Ken Griffey, Jr.'s father who had indeed played professional baseball. At that point, I was duly impressed with her knowledge and was about to say just that. Before I had time to comment to that effect, she added, "What was his father's name?"
I looked at her with some surprise, and I said, "You want to know what Ken Griffey, Junior's father's name was?" She returned a blank stare. "That would be Ken Griffey, Senior." Beatrice finally understood her error. What happened next was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. She laughed. Not a chuckle or a short, embarrassed "silly me" kind of laugh, but a full-on, when-is-it-going-to-end, tears-running-down-her-face, please-make-it-stop-because-my-belly-hurts kind of laugh.
I don't think I had ever seen someone appear more comfortable with themselves or have more self-confidence than she seemed to have in that moment. She had no fear that I would think she was dumb, and why would I? I knew that she was extremely intelligent. None of that would have mattered to me if our roles had been reversed.
Had I made this same mistake, I would have constructed elaborate excuses. I would have told detailed stories about baseball and myself to convince her and everyone else that I wasn't stupid. I would have gotten angry at myself and beaten myself up for several days over it. I might have avoided seeing her for a few days just so that the mistake would become old news. All of this would have done little to erase the mistake and much to make me look even more foolish than did the original comment.
It wasn't until I really got to see my wife laugh at herself that I realized I was missing out on something. It was only through knowing her that I was able to understand and admit to myself that I was addicted to my own feelings of intellectual pride. I was addicted to the feeling I got from believing that others thought I was intelligent.
My need to be right and to look intelligent affected me in many ways beyond simply limiting my laughter. That I couldn't laugh at myself only made my own errors embarrassing for everyone present. Worse though was what my need to be perceived as intelligent did to me at work. In my first job, I rushed to provide the answers, to show that I was smart, sometimes shutting out my peers in the process. In my first managerial position I spent most of my time telling and very little time asking questions. This behavior made me feel good because it helped me to believe that my wisdom was useful and appreciated. However, it hurt my team members by minimizing their opportunities to provide input and develop their own solutions.
I had a problem and seeing my wife's carefree nature, self-confidence, and eagerness to laugh was the contrast I needed in order to recognize, understand, and admit to my self-addiction. Her comment about Ken Griffey, Jr. gave me the "Aha!" moment I needed to begin the exploration and see various other ways that this self-addiction was hurting me.
Contrast can best be described as seeing someone do something well, and having the flash of insight that this is something which you would like to improve in yourself. You contrast another person's ability with your own, and the contrast provides the inspiration. After that, it is up to you to continue with the necessary exploration to understand and admit to the addiction.
How do you find this inspiration? Inspiration is something that is just supposed to happen. It comes to you in a flash. In the movie Back to the Future, Christopher Lloyd's character was installing a new shower head. He slipped and banged his head on the side of the bathtub. When he awoke, he had a picture in his mind of the flux capacitor, the device that made time travel possible. He was inspired by a mild concussion. Another famous, albeit mythical, knock on the head was Sir Isaac Newton's. While sitting under the apple tree an apple fell and knocked him on the head. Voila! Gravity was discovered.
So what do you do if you don't have the good fortune of being knocked on the head? I was lucky enough to be inspired by someone close to me. What if no one has stepped into your life to provide similar inspiration? The answer is probably that they have, but you just haven't realized it yet. You absolutely can manufacture your own inspiration. You merely need to ask yourself the right questions.
Who are the people whose actions motivate you, surprise you, impress you, or leave you on an emotional high? These people could be your friends, family members, and coworkers. You should consider the people you look up to, the ones you most admire. They could be people you know or public figures. They can be gurus in the field of leadership or fitness or parenting or marriage. They can be living or dead. The first step is simply to identify who these people are.
In order to identify the contrast, you need to recognize the behaviors you admire in them and then be truthful about your own behaviors in that realm. Consider the following examples.
You may find that some of the contrasts are more important than others. For example, if this chart were yours, you might decide that the contrast with Eileen is deeply important to you and something you want to change. However, although you admire Roger Clemens's work ethic, you may not wish to emulate it. Perhaps you are completely at ease with your work style but still find his impressive. That's a perfectly acceptable and valuable outcome from this process.
Special Note: Starting with this exercise and throughout the rest of the book, it will be valuable for you to record your notes from the exercises in a single place so that you can easily review what you have done and see your progress along the way. I recommend that you keep a notebook specifically for this purpose.
From this exercise you will begin to see similarities and differences between you and the people you admire. You will begin to see behaviors that you may wish to change. Later in this chapter we will look further at these behaviors and determine which one you want to work on as you read the rest of this book. First, let's look at our next method of identifying self-addictions: getting shocked.
As with contrast, shock comes from an interaction with another person, but in a very different context. You get shocked when someone tells you that you are doing something that isn't working. These shocks can be direct and specific, or they can be vague. Either way, the underlying characteristic is that someone sends you a message that your behavior needs adjustment. Darrell, a marketing executive for a retail clothing company, was shocked into an understanding of his addictions. Here is his story.
I was surrounded by greatness, at home by my kids and at work by my team members. They were all interesting, fun, talented people. My kids' teachers told me how great they were. My boss and my colleagues raved about the people who worked for me. I had every reason to be happy with the people around me. Then, in less than a month, I got three wake-up calls, three painful wake-up calls.
I was in my office early when Alexis, my top performer, came to see me. She had been with me for a little over a year and had impressed everyone from the start. I thought she had a bright future in the company, but she came in that morning to give me her resignation. I was completely taken aback and told her as much. I told her I thought she was very talented and destined for senior roles in our company and she shouldn't leave since she had such a bright future here. Then the real shock came. She told me that this was the first time I had ever given her the impression that she wasn't completely incompetent. That was tough to take. So tough, in fact, that I blew it off.
Three weeks later I had an incident with my oldest son, Nate. It was report card time, and he had done pretty well. He had mostly A's with one B and a C in History. I didn't even think about it. I just dove right in and started asking him questions all about the C. How did that happen? How much was he studying? What was he going to do to bring the grade up? I guess I was pretty stern with him in the way I asked the questions, but he certainly got me back with my last question.
"Why didn't we know about his difficulties before report card time?" I said "we" meaning me and his mother. He told me that his mom did know. He asked her not to say anything to me because I always rip into him on the smallest things. Then he yelled at me. My son never yells at me, but he did then. I was so shocked I don't remember exactly what he said, but I remember the basic message: "What's the point? Why should I try when nothing is ever good enough?"
Less than a week after that, one of my other top performers, Evan, came to give me his resignation. At first I thought that Alexis had taken him along with her, but the timing was just a coincidence. Evan had also been dissatisfied and had looked for and found a new job. When I asked him why he wanted to leave he talked about the opportunities in the new job, but I could tell he was holding back. So I asked him point blank, "Are you leaving because of me?" He still said no, but it didn't sound like there was a lot of conviction.
Then I asked him if I was tough to work for. That finally got him to open up. He told me that I made things tough at times. He said that I always saw the flaws. I always pointed out errors. I publicly ripped people's ideas apart and I never lifted people up. I never praised anyone. I never made people feel great about me as their leader or about themselves and their work.
All I wanted to do was to tell him he didn't know what he was talking about, except that he did know and so did my son and so did Alexis. I realized then that everyone else on my team and in my family probably knew as well. All this time I had been taking the people I respected and cared about most in the world and making them feel bad about themselves. I'd like to think that one wake-up call would have been enough, but three made it impossible for me to ignore.
When a shock comes to us naturally, it is like a bucket of ice water thrown in our face. Darrell's experiences opened his eyes to a behavior that he didn't even realize was there. Sometimes shocks come in exactly that fashion—comments from a respected source directly pointing out the addiction at play. These shocks hit us in such a way that we cannot ignore them.
Other times, the messages are not so direct. The source is not as trusted. Often we turn away these shocks that could do so much to help us if we were only receptive. We are able to do this because we are all endowed with natural shock absorbers.
Excerpted from You're Addicted to YOU by Noah Blumenthal Copyright © 2007 by Noah Blumenthal. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.