We live in a world that is increasingly obsessed with quick fixes and instant gratification. We don’t have time to stop and get gas, even though we are running on fumes, because we left late. We don’t have time to stop and sharpen the saw because we are too busy trying—and failing—to cut the tree down. We don’t have the money to save or invest in retirement because we have to have that car/phone/vacation right now, instead of waiting until we can afford it. Examples abound, and I’m sure you can think of some of your own. The bottom line is that we end up being so focused on efficiency that we often end up sacrificing effectiveness as a result. All too often, we judge the potential solutions and strategies on how quickly and how well they are going to address the symptoms that we see right in front of us, while completely ignoring the cause of our discontent. This feeds the perpetual focus on fixing problems rather than creating a discontinuous shift in results, i.e. we ignore the roots of transformation to pursue the fruits of change.
This observation is in no way intended to be an indictment on the appropriate sense of urgency and focus that must be placed on doing what it takes to deliver results. Much of the focus we place on dealing with the urgent is absolutely necessary, especially the closer you are to where the work actually happens. It is sometimes necessary for the person on the front lines to take temporary measures to keep the line running on night shift. It is admirable for the sales person to come up with innovative solutions to a customer’s issue in the field. Where we fall short, as leaders, is that we perpetuate the cycle of rewarding and encouraging short-term fixes at the expense of implementing systemic solutions. Indeed, implementing these transformative systemic solutions would obviate the need for short-term fixes in the first place! We get comfortable with a rate of change and improvement that is well below what is required to keep up with the rate of change in the world we live in today, and we end up essentially running as fast as we can to stay in the same place.
What if we took the time to look beyond the immediate cause of our problems and searched for, found, and addressed the root cause of those problems? What if we asked ourselves “why?” a few times until we got to the root cause of the issue and addressed it at that level? What if, instead of spinning our wheels, we let the rubber hit the road? What if instead of running as fast as we could and getting nowhere, we finally decided to step off the treadmill? I’m sure most of us have practiced this in some shape or form in our personal lives or careers. In fact, I know we have all experienced it in the areas of life that we truly care about and are committed to, because it comes about naturally when we are passionate about a subject. But isn’t it also true that most of us have had experiences with setting the same goals over and over again, only to fail over and over again, without any clue as to why? That’s the result of setting fruit goals rather than root goals.
We are approaching that time of the year when many of us make New Year’s resolutions and most of fall off the wagon by January 14th! The reason, I submit, is that we focus on the fruit without a thought about the root! We focus on the outcomes we wish we could achieve like wealth, health, better relationships and then we come up with a list of things we should do to achieve them like eat less, exercise more, save more, be nicer to the people around us, and so on. The reason most of us don’t make it past January 14th, however, is that we have not addressed the root of why it is we can’t seem to execute what seem like simple plans. I mean what is so hard about, “If you want to lose weight, eat less, eat healthier, and exercise more,” or “If you want to have more money left over at the end of the month, either figure out how to make more money or adjust your spending?”
Here again, I am all for starting with the ultimate goal in mind and being inspired by the desired outcome you intend to create. That has to be the starting point, but it shouldn’t be confused for the finish line. I also completely agree that one must have a plan of action on how to achieve those goals, but clearly that isn’t enough on its own. I’d like to propose digging one layer deeper and asking the question, “What fundamental belief do I have about this topic that has hindered me from reaching my goals in the past?” You may have the most detailed plan to achieve your goal, but unless you answer this question, you will never fully implement your plan, for reasons unbeknownst to you. That fundamental belief is the root that is often ignored, and, without a healthy root, there will never be great fruit!
You will never be wealthy if you fundamentally believe that money is evil and rich people are bad. You will never be healthy or lose weight if you believe you are just a hapless victim of genetics and/or circumstance. You can never find balance in your personal and professional life if you believe it is not possible to do both. You will not invest in your organization and help them grow into a high performance team if you fundamentally believe they are lazy and not interested in doing any more than the minimum that is required. In all of these cases, you are likely to set some goals and make half-hearted attempts, but never give yourself completely to overcoming the obstacles and setbacks that arise. This is because whatever setbacks or lack of progress you encounter will be taken as evidence that your disempowering fundamental beliefs were correct, and, since most of us would rather be right than happy, the whole endeavor ends up as a smugly satisfying self-fulfilling prophecy.
The truth is that none of us needs a lecture on the clichés we have heard over and over again. We have all heard, and possibly said, many times, “You haven’t failed until you give up,” and “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” and, “.” We all know this stuff. That’s not the problem. The problem is that if we don’t have any hope of making progress, the most logical course of action is to give up, and often our fundamental beliefs lead us to conclude that, even as we refuse to admit it to ourselves and others. If you don’t have hope for a brighter future, even if you muster up the energy to set some goals and plan and execute a few actions, subconsciously, you are looking for evidence that proves your suspicion that it is just not possible or at least not probable. And it is actually easier to live life assuming success and happiness is not possible, because if we were to believe the opposite, it would not only require that we actually do the hard work of achieving it, but even worse, do the harder work of changing our worldview. If that doesn’t seem so hard, consider that throughout history, far too many people have chosen to die, or to kill, simply to avoid having to revise their beliefs about the world.
The key here that is often missed is that a belief is not reality, rather it is a way of orienting oneself towards reality; often what we believe is often not actually the case, though we rarely check to see. Most of our disempowering beliefs are rooted in stories about the world we have told ourselves over and over again—usually from when we were children, a time when we literally did not understand how the world worked and enthusiastically made things up—until they became our reality. They were not based on any facts that can be verified and corroborated as an adult with an understanding of the world, but we nevertheless live our lives with them as unexamined assumptions that guide our behavior. As a result, we relate to these fundamental beliefs as unchangeable facts about the world, and spend most of our time operating in change mode, trying to alter the fruits, rather than transformation mode where we focus on altering the roots.
As you reflect on what is going well or not so well in your life, personally and professionally, how about pausing for a moment and examining your motives and fundamental beliefs? If there is any area of your life where you just don’t feel like you are winning at, like your finances, health, relationships, etc., I’d suggest that you interrogate your assumptions and beliefs, through writing or typing, about that area of your life. Ask yourself where your current beliefs come from, whether they are factual or not, what they exist to achieve in terms of your behavior. Ask yourself what you think is possible or not, who is not supporting you, how your current starting point has put you at a disadvantage, and so on. Some suggestions for deeper questions to pose to yourself are: “Is this goal something I want, or something I think I should want?”, “Do I believe I deserve to achieve this goal? Why or why not?”, “How does not achieving this goal provide some payoff to me?”, and “If I believed the opposite, how would I have to change my behavior?” I would then suggest that you sit down with someone who cares about you and discuss those beliefs and have them give you some straight feedback about which one of your beliefs are rooted in reality and which ones you need to find a way to part with and get a fresh start.
What I’ve suggested here is really just the starting point for examining how you relate to the roots and fruits of your goals. There are many deeper implications which we may expand upon later, and I will leave some related posts below. If you start on this path, however, you will find that you will be so much more resilient as you go about working your plan if you are armed with some practical insight as to which one of your old beliefs are creeping up on you and sabotaging your progress. You will find that, gradually, your focus on change will become less and less of a hindrance to your commitment to transformation. You will become so much more effective at seeing the issues with the root as you try to grow better fruit!
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About the Author: Amir Ghannad is an international keynote speaker, author of The Transformative Leader, leadership consultant, culture transformation champion, and founder of The Ghannad Group. He has made it his life's work to guide leaders and equip them with the tools, skills, and the mindset necessary to create extraordinary workplace cultures that deliver breakthrough results. Download his free e-book, titled 5 Practical Steps to Make Your Culture Transformation Stick by clicking here.
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As always, have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary!
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