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December 2002
Success Harmony Newsletter


Have you ever gotten on an escalator when it was "off duty"? It's kind of like this:

You are walking up to an escalator, thinking about something important like what you will have dinner. You see an escalator, you get yourself ready to get on and wait until this useful device takes you to the next floor - as it's supposed to. But, wait a minute! A few steps before the escalator, your brain wakes you up to tell you that this thing is supposed to be moving but it isn't. Your brain also tells you that you will now need to walk up that set of stairs on your own. If you are like me, you might feel odd and slightly awkward as you take the stairs. You are lucky if you don't stumble.

So what's the problem? Don't we know how to go up stairs? Of course we do. We have probably been going up regular stairs longer and more often than we have taken escalators. So why does it feel so strange, and what does it have to do with life and business in general?

To keep sane, our brain writes shortcuts into our brains - these are called associations. The purpose of these associations is to simplify our lives. For example, if we have tasted a lemon once in our life, our brain forms a "lemon = sour taste = contort your face as a result" association. From now on, whenever we see a lemon, our tongue contorts a little in anticipation of the sour taste. The same thing happens with the escalator. We ride an escalator once and our brain forms an "escalator = moving object" association. When we see an escalator that isn't moving, our brain gets very confused and doesn't quite know whether to treat the situation with the "escalator" expectation or the "stairs" expectation. As a result, we have to consciously think about what to tell our legs.

This automatic association thing is not a big deal when it comes to escalators. The problem is that we have a lot of similar associations about other, more important things like how we feel about our parents, bosses, the weather, money, or whatever else. For example, we may have a "see boss = cringe and activate negativity" association. This will make it very difficult for us to have a positive communication with the boss, even when she is trying very hard herself. We may have a "talking about money = greed" association. This will make it very difficult to talk about getting a raise we deserve. We may have a "talking to strangers = to be avoided at all costs" association or a "no = personal rejection" association. Both of these will make it very difficult for us to make cold calls or look for work.

The tough thing about unlearning some of these associations that no longer work for us is simply that we tend to judge our actions by what "feels right" or what "feels good". In other words, we tend to judge based on whether we are acting according to our expectations (this "feels right") or not according to our expectations (this then "feels wrong", even when the course of action is a far superior one!). So how do we change associations consciously?

AWARENESS. First of all, we need to know what associations we already have that are on "auto pilot" already. If you are getting results that you don't want in an area of your life or business, look at what your internal thermostat is set to. What do you expect to happen? (Remember, this is not about what you say you want to happen, but what your "status quo" expectations are).

CHOICE. If you were to get better results in the area you want to improve, what association would you need to be open to changing your current one to? For example, to improve communication with a boss you don't like, as a start it may serve you to go from "the boss = a jerk" association to "the boss = a human being who is under a lot of stress" association.

PRACTICE. You will need to consciously practice the new association. Get ready for it to feel very strange at first. You may want to practice by writing affirmations or simply to "act as if" the new association was true. At first, you will find this a bit awkward (just like going up the non-moving escalator) but, with time and with improved results, the wiring in your brain will slowly start to shift. Until you will wake up one day and the new association will have replaced the old one.

The magic with this approach is that, once your associations have changed, you no longer have to work very hard. For example, once you have de-jerked and humanized the boss, you will no longer have to grit your teeth and force yourself with all your might not to say something offensive to her face. Instead, you will see her and her actions differently. As a result of your change, you can also expect that the environment around you actually starts to behave differently. You may notice that the boss praises you for work well done, or that she asks for your opinion where you wouldn't have dreamed of this happening before. And you'll wonder, "what has happened, has she changed?"

No, she hasn't, really. You have changed and, therefore, allowed to see her differently. Try it. Whether it's a way you see someone in your life or some circumstances in general, take the association magic wand and wave it a few times, and be ready for a few fun surprises!


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"Imagination is the highest kite one can fly."
Abraham Maslow

"Trust in your own untried capacity."
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

"There's a better way to do it. Find it!"
Thomas Edison




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© 2002 Pavla Michaela Polcarova, CPR Coaching Services, Vancouver, BC, Canada