The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.

Ecc 9:11 NIV

“They really should…” begins another tirade of disgust at the ineptitude of the leadership to fix the problems. “Why they can't…” interjects the thought of an easy fix that “anyone with an ounce of real experience would have known from the start”.

“Why doesn't somebody do something?” “Why doesn't God do something about this?” And then, if you quiet your mind for just one moment, you'll hear him say “I did. I created you!”

And He gave you choice: You can react to whatever the world, your boss, the economy, a pandemic throws at you, or you can choose to take action to overcome the obstacles in front of you.

It's easier to react, like a thermometer, and blame others for the tragedies that befall you. It requires a lot less energy. But you won't be happy with the results, until you choose to be like a thermostat, someone at cause for their life.

Purpose Here we're going to understand why it's easy to fall into a survival thinking mode and live a less than fulfilled life and how you can break that cycle and choose to be at cause for your life and actions.

Process We'll discuss the two thinking modes and how you can shift yourself from being the victim of survival mode to being at cause and creating your future.

Payoff It's not that one cycle is better than another, it's realising that we have a choice and that most people, most of the time, are at effect because they don't make a deliberate choice to take charge.

Are you at Cause or Effect?

Life happens.

“Life happens whilst you're making other plans.”

John Lennon.

Most people, most of the time, just allow life to happen to them. They react to whatever the day brings. They are happy when their happenings are conducive to their happiness, otherwise they are unhappy. They may have a plan, but they are easily blown off course and, unless the winds of chance so happen to return them back, off course they remain.

This is completely understandable behaviour for your brain. Unconsciously, your brain is always scanning the environment for threats and changes and reacting to them with little, if any, requirement for energy expensive conscious processing. If you make a deliberate choice to pre-empt environmental circumstances and choose to take action – that is conscious, executive brain processing – which is energy expensive.

The downside of allowing your brain to be lazy is that you are essentially allowing other people to choose your circumstances and hence your life. Of course, this might be utterly wonderful – hopefully you had a happy and splendid childhood and everything went swimmingly. Perhaps you are blessed with an incredible boss who gently nudges you to do what is essential, pays you extravagantly well and expects little in return.

You have a choice. A very simple choice: To be a thermostat or a thermometer. You can choose to create your future, or you can accept the one that you get.

Every moment of every day, you make a choice. If you are in a survival mode, that is you're just trying to get by and survive, the chances are that you will react to a new situation.

You will then face an obstacle in your path. And you get another choice, this time you can choose to avoid the obstacle or address it.

Avoidance of obstacles leads you to adapt and change yourself thanks to the obstacle that someone else put in your way. And you will get undesired results. Which results in disappointment and reinforces your survival vision to just try and get by for another day.

On the other hand, when you have a creative vision you choose to take action. Sure, the same obstacles lie in your path but this time, you are going to address the problem and experiment until you find a desired solution and get the results you want. This means that you can, and should, celebrate so as to reinforce the creative vision to take on another day with chutzpah and intention.

Moving from Effect to Cause

“But…” I hear you about to interrupt… there are no ‘buts'. Sorry about that. Yes, it is true that other people, the world, the circumstances around you may well prevent you from achieving your goal. So what are you going to do about it?

Can you cause the world do something different? There are many things that you cannot change… the weather for example, pandemics, mad dictators. So the answer is…. overcome the problem.

Can you make another person do whatever is necessary? Neither you nor anyone else can directly cause them to do something, though you can influence them.

“But…” I continue to hear… There are no buts. You can choose to act to overcome the obstacle.

It is agonising when things or people well outside of your control, cause circumstances in your life to be difficult, even unbearable. Factories close for lack of orders, shops for lack of customers, restaurants for lack of diners. Loved ones get sick and medical bills threaten to overwhelm everything and everyone. A car accident crushes your ability to walk let alone work. Some despot thinks a war would be a good idea.

In modern society we have become heavily reliant on society working in the way it is supposed to work, and we have allowed our own choices to be limited because it's easier and, most of the time, it seems to be beneficial. Hence we obey certain rules, like driving on the left (or right, for those of you in confused countries).

In any given situation, we start with a choice. We can act to make something happen, or, we react to the external circumstances. Both appear to start the same way. Yet, they start a cycle that is either virtuous or destructive in the long term.

Most people who are motivated towards achievement and have a growth mindset are likely to be in the creative cycle. Those of you who are more motivated away-from things that you do not want and have a more fixed mindset, will be in the survival cycle.

When you are at effect, you react to something external to you (or something that you believe is outside your control). Your primary purpose is to protect yourself (or your people).

Your personal values and beliefs will determine what you see as obstacles, both conscious and unconscious and these influence your choice to address or avoid the obstacles.

In the survival cycle, you will try to avoid the obstacles in your path by reacting to the external ‘threat'. And, as you try to avoid them, you will adapt or assimilate your reaction to do so.

As a result of obstacle avoidance, your result is likely to be less than optimal. Most often the result achieved is not the desired result. This leads to disappointment and your survival vision… “I have to”…”I must…” in order to survive.

On the other side, you can choose to take action. The desired end result could be considered to be exactly the same thing, and the external environmental pressures could also be exactly the same as for the person who ‘reacts'. It's a mindset choice that makes the greatest difference here. In the creative cycle, your purpose is to discover potential and possibilities.

You take action and come across the self-same obstacles. But instead of trying to avoid the obstacles, you address them. Experimenting and testing to find the best way to overcome the obstacles. When you find the optimal way to address the obstacle, you gain your desired result and CELEBRATE!. You have a creative vision… “I like to…”…”I want to…”

Survival cycle strategies that we employ (and we all employ them at some point) are often developed early in life and were originally a creative response to a situation. It worked then and achieved the desired results then. Later in life, we continue to use the same response yet circumstances have changed.

A common example of taking an early life response and applying it in later life that I come across frequently is when a child's parents use punishment as their primary means of maintaining discipline at home and as their primary means of getting the child to do certain tasks or chores. This often means that you may be choosing to be at cause, and using the creative cycle, yet those obstacles, well they turn out to be insurmountable… so you avoid them instead, adapting and assimilating, true, not getting the optimal result but, life really does happen whilst you are making other plans.

Do you want to be at cause for your life, or at the effect of life happening to you?

If you genuinely want the latter… read no more, you are in danger of gaining the former.

Are you like a thermometer. Reacting to the external environment?

Or, are you like a thermostat, changing and adapting and controlling what you can control to change the environment?

In their book “The Skilled Facilitator”, Schwarz et al, (2005) they describe a Life Learning Model, developed by Dr. Guillermo Cuellar, adapted in the diagram below to show the creative (cause) and survival (effect) cycles that people choose to follow.

Some examples of early creative responses that later in life become survival responses:

Using the template

This template is a circular flow chart. Consider how you normally respond to situations that involve you personally.

You already know that there will be obstacles ahead:

Are you At Cause?

  1. I approach every day with a spring in my step and ready to take on the world.
  2. I relish the chance to tackle a new obstacle or problem
  3. I enjoy experimenting with new approaches and ideas to problems
  4. Failure is a great learning lesson
  5. I keep on keeping on until I get the desired results
  6. Winning is a wonderful excuse to celebrate
  7. I review what worked well and what worked less well and learn from the experience and eagerly anticipate the next challenge
  8. I plan and paint a picture of what tomorrow will bring

Or At Effect?

  1. I approach each day expecting something or someone to cause me problems
  2. I'm tired of the obstacles people put in my way
  3. I'll adapt and shift to avoid the obstacle if at all possible
  4. I don't bother addressing the obstacle because I'll likely fail
  5. Someone else can fix the problems, it's not my job
  6. I rarely get the results I should get
  7. I'm not very motivated or happy with the results I get
  8. I wonder why I bother at all

Cause or Effect Template

VERY IMPORTANT There is no RIGHT or WRONG cycle to be in – the two exist simultaneously. A creative response to a car rushing toward you at 100 kph may not be appropriate.

In our research the ONLY significant determinator of success was taking action on what was coached. If you haven’t gone through the exercise yet, go back and do it now. Remember that applying best practices with discipline and consistency, even if the actual steps seem trite or obvious, is what leads to results and ultimately, success.

Thanks so much for reading this guide – if you have any feedback or comments you can reach me at [email protected]

Don’t settle,

John K

by Dr John Kenworthy Coaching for Geeks and Nerds – developing you with the skills and confidence your need to thrive and be a better leader.

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