Or, The Serpent Did It
As Mike sat down he was astonished to see John pull out a thick, closely printed book with a dark cover.
“Is that a Bible?” he asked wondering what the hell he had got himself into and curious to see where this would go.
“Sure is.” John paused. “One of the things I really like about this book is how honest and real it is about human nature. It could almost have been written by our creator.” He joked. “Anyway, right at the beginning is a big clue to this dilemma of figuring out what we want. How well do you remember the story of Adam and Eve?”
“A bit”, said Mike who still had no clue where this was going and was beginning to worry. “There was something about some apple and a snake and they had to leave The Garden of Eden in a hurry”
“Pretty good,” said John “except it wasn’t an apple. The basic story is that the first man had been given this great place to live and work in, plus a few basic rules to go with it. He ended up breaking a few of these rules and hiding from God who had come to see him. It’s the next scene that’s so fascinating and gives us a real insight for coaching and working with ourselves.”
“Go on…” Said Mike, still wondering
“God finds him” continued John “and asks him about what happened. Can you remember what the man said?”
“Oh yes” said Mike “he blamed someone else.”
“Exactly” said John. “Asked to account for his actions and take a bit of responsibility, he said ‘It was that women who you put here’ Then the woman blamed the snake ‘It was that serpent’. And there we see the heart of our problem with sorting out clearly what we want. Adam managed to blame his wife AND God for putting her in the garden, Eve blamed the serpent and nobody took responsibility. And we’ve been doing it ever since. We are past masters at shifting any kind of blame or responsibility for our own choices away from ourselves.”
Driver or Passenger?
“Let me explain by asking you a different question. ‘If your life were a bus then who is driving; are you a driver or a passenger in the bus of your life?’ Most people are passengers, what about you?”
“That’s a sweeping statement” Mike shot back.
“Let’s see” said John. “It’s easy to tell if someone is a driver or a passenger. Listen to them talk and you’ll hear passengers sitting at the back of their bus complaining about where their bus has gone. Not only do they complain but they hold someone or something else responsible for where the bus has ended up.”
- Some blame their past – ‘What happened in my past means I can’t or I’m not responsible’
- Some blame their parents, their partner, their boss.
- Some use science to shift responsibility ‘It’s not my fault I’m rude to people, I’ve got a gene that makes me rude’
- Some blame the weather ‘It’s raining so I’m miserable’
- Some are a bit more creative or take a more spiritual approach, they blame the universe, karma, God or their star sign.
“Since the beginning of time we’ve been avoiding responsibility for our choices and our actions, looking outside ourselves for the cause of wherever we are now.”
Mike leant forward. “So you’re saying that people are still doing what Adam and Eve did.”
“Yes, although now there are more of us it’s even worse. What happens now is passengers get together with other passengers and remind each other that nothing is their fault – ‘don’t worry, no one can lose weight over 40, you’re just big boned!’ You’ll hear passengers say things like ‘Life’s a bitch and then you die’ or ‘Same shit, different day’ because they believe life is something that happens to you and there is nothing you can do about it. Passengers are passive, they act like victims and have a victim mentality.”
The Problem With What You Want
John paused for a moment and looked at Mike. “Can you see how this would get in the way of figuring out what you want?”
“I think so” said Mike “If you think and act like a passenger you probably don’t believe that having what you want is possible, so you avoid thinking about it.”
“Exactly right, one of the first keys to figuring out what you really want in life is to think like a driver and before we go any further, I’d like you to practice this.”
“Think about where you are in life right now, the state of your finances, your happiness, your job, your relationships, the amount of fun you have and say to yourself I’m where I am right now because I drove my bus right here.”
Mike looked across at him. “If I’m honest, there’s a little part of me that doesn’t think that is very fair and I’m thinking of several things that happened where it wasn’t my fault”
“That’s great, thank you for being so honest. What you’re experiencing is your built in passenger tendency, the ancient habit of putting responsibility outside of ourselves. Let’s break it down in some detail.”
“First, it’s not about blame. Blame is a feeling, an emotional response, like guilt. Taking responsibility creates an uncomfortable feeling, so we avoid anything that might make us feel that way. Passengers do not want to be blamed so they look to shift the feeling somewhere else. It’s safer, and it feels nicer, to blame others or your circumstances or your past. This leaves you stuck though. If you are just a victim of circumstance how could you possibly change your life? You have to find a way of taking responsibility without feeling blamed.
“How do I do that then?”
“Well, one way is to think of your results so far as data. I made these choices and this happened. If I make different choices, different things will happen. It’s not about blame (which leaves you stuck). It’s about taking responsibility.”
“I think I’m beginning to see” said Mike. “What drivers do is recognise the part they played in what happened and think about what else they could do.”
“Spot on” said John “a driver knows…”
- That they can always choose their reaction
- That they can alway choose where to focus
- That they can always choose their next action
- And that if they have driven their bus somewhere they didn’t like, they can always drive it somewhere else
“You can only do this, though, if you are willing to take 100% responsibility for the choices, reactions, focus and actions that brought you to where you are now. This is neither nice nor very comfortable but it is very, very powerful because if you drove your bus here then you can pretty much drive it somewhere else.”
“And notice that while passengers are figuring out who to blame or where to put the blame, the drivers are busy driving somewhere else. Passengers wonder what happened and why. Drivers make things happen.”
“I’m a bit confused now” said Mike, “How does all of this help me figure out what I want?”
“It’s the missing piece, the clue that will pull it all together for you, as we’ll see in the next session. For now though what I want you to practice is looking at everything you have and seeing if you can trace back the choices, focus, reactions and actions that led you here. And in particularly I want you to look at things that you are perhaps not totally happy with and see if you can take 100% responsibility without falling into blaming yourself. Blame makes you feel bad and rarely leads to action. Taking responsibility helps you treat the results you get as data and helps you think about alternative actions.”
“The other thing I want you to listen for is ‘passenger’ language in your colleagues, friends and family. Listen and watch for it, too, in the things you read and see. You’ll be astonished how widespread it is – from executives attributing their failure to government policy, to individuals sidestepping their choices because someone didn’t give them something. Listen for people shifting the responsibility for their choices, their actions, their reactions to some external cause.”
“Great” said Mike, “I’m going to tell everyone about this. Driver or Passenger, who drives your bus? What a great metaphor.”
“Whoa there” John held up his hand. “I really don’t recommend that, you will not be popular. Remember that the passenger mentality is deeply held and no one will thank you for challenging it. Far better to practice being able to spot it and practice spotting yourself doing it first. When you start driving, people will notice soon enough.”
“And my other tip is start small. Let’s say you open your middle desk drawer and notice all the mess in there. Your internal dialogue starts up – ‘It’s not my fault, I have so much work to do I’m so stressed they expect too much of me round here I never get time to clear up’ and so on. All of a sudden you have gone from an untidy drawer to reinforcing your view of yourself as a put upon victim of circumstance and greedy bosses. That’s what I mean by listen out for ‘passenger talk’. Take a drivers view of it. ‘OK it’s a mess. I don’t have time to get to it now. I’m OK with leaving it as a mess for now or I’m going to take everything out of it at lunchtime and put it straight’.”
“Can you feel how much lighter this is, can you hear the difference in the approaches, it even looks different doesn’t it?” Asked John.
“Yes.” said Mike
Reasons or Results?
“Good. Now let’s take it one step further. Have you ever been in the position of asking someone else to do something?”
“Of course” said Mike “I’m a manager. I’m always asking people to do things for me.”
“Then you’ll know that you usually get one of two things, either they do it (you get a result) or they don’t do it (you get a reason). What kind of person are you Mike? Are you the kind that generally creates results or do you create reasons?”
“That’s easy” said Mike “I’m a results person”.
“Are you sure?” John looked straight at him and kept silent.
“Hmm” said Mike “Well, now that you mention it we recently had a project review meeting for a project and we spent the whole meeting brainstorming a list of reasons for the late delivery that we could present to senior management.” he laughed. “I see what you mean.”
“Reasons is a polite word really. Reasons are excuses and they often have to do with blaming something or someone else for the lack of result. ‘Sorry I’m late, it was the traffic’, ‘It’s not my fault I can’t lose weight, it’s those food manufacturers selling all that fatty food’ and so on. If you’re looking to make a significant difference to your future direction, one thing you can do right now is make a decision to become a results person.”
“How do I do that?” Ask Mike.
“It’s simple really, all you need to do is get rid of all your reasons. Stop inventing them and stop using them. Without reasons the only things that’s left will be results. Generating reasons usually stops you looking at your results. Did you know there is a big clue that tells you when you are going to get a reason instead of a result? It’s a three letter word, a dead giveaway, hear this word and you know there will be a reason coming along soon.”
“BUT?” Guessed Mike. John shook his head
“It’s the word TRY. When you hear this word you know that a reason is coming. Let me give you an example from home.”
“My wife is going out for the evening and just before she leaves she asks me to tidy up the kitchen and wash up while she’s out.”
Me. “I’ll try”
“What do you think will really happen?” Asked John. Mike laughed again, “You’re not going to do it are you?”
“That’s right” said John, when she comes back some hours later the place is still a tip. She’s understandably upset and feels let down but, luckily for me, I have a good defence. ‘I tried (just what I promised) but this happened and that happened.’ I rehearse my list of reasons secure in the knowledge that they let me off the hook.”
“Does any of this sound familiar?”
“If you want to give yourself the power to create all the results you want (and who doesn’t?) then start by banning the word try from your daily life and work. A results person does things or does not do them while a reasons person tries things then invents excuses to cover themselves. The truth is though that it’s impossible to try to do things.”
“What do you mean?” asked Mike.
“Let me show you” said John. “Try and stand up now.”
Mike stood up. John waved him back down, “Listen to what I said try and stand up.”
“Oh I see” said Mike “I can’t try to stand up can I? I’m either stood up or sat down.”
“Exactly. Every time you use the word try you are setting yourself up to create reasons. Promise yourself that from now on you will either do things or not do them – no more trying. And that includes figuring out what you really want. No more trying to figure out what you want, you are either going to do it or you’re not going to do it, aren’t you?” Mike nodded.
John handed him a paper. “Here’s a reminder of the differences in the driver/passenger approach. Take a week to practice being a driver and then we’ll get started on helping you figure out what you really want.”
“Remember this, though. I wonder what would have happened if the first man had said ‘Yes, it was me, I did it, it was wrong and I’m sorry.’ We might still be in Eden now.”