Change Work June 2010

When you wish upon a star ...

The root of "behaviour" is, of course, the sequence of thoughts that underlie it.  And so to extend your range of behaviours you need to modify your thinking habits. For example, perhaps you are prevented from taking risks because, faced with a choice, you habitually create a mental list of everything that could go wrong and then imagine what it would feel like if they all did go wrong.  This installs a belief that the risky action will definitely fail: your unconscious mind knows it because it has experienced it already!

You probably know someone who doesn't appear to follow this process.  They can evaluate risk, decide whether the reward is worth it and then take action.  You can do that too by thinking like they do.  When your internal voice says, "But I'm not like that person", you reply, "What would I do if I were like them?"  Thinking (and acting) as if something were true, even when you "know" it isn't, is the key to breaking out of your mental habits.  The questions, "What would I do if .. What would it be like if ..?" give you permission to imagine a world without the constraints of "reality".  And, as I've discussed before, imagining something leaves memories and perceptions that are just as powerful and persistent as "real" experiences.

To save you the trouble of finding a model for this type of thinking, I'll describe an exercise that allows you to think "as if" you were Walt Disney!  The great film maker was known to deliberately adopt different processes, or perceptual positions, at different times in the creation and development of a concept. These are the Dreamer, the Realist and the Critic.

The rest of us adopt these positions as well but usually in an unhelpful way.  So, the Dreamer in you comes up with an idea that the Realist immediately says is impossible and the Critic says isn't worth bothering with anyway!  Perhaps with some work it could have been a very practical and worthwhile idea but you'll never know because you've already killed it.

In the Disney Strategy, you reinforce the different perspectives by associating each of them with a different place in the room - or even different rooms.  So, when you've got a problem that requires a creative solution:

  1. Stand in a place that will be your "neutral" position.
  2. Choose three other places, at least a couple of steps apart, for your Dreamer, Realist and Critic.  In a moment you'll be able to step into each of these places and so into the corresponding perceptual position.
  3. Remember a time when you were particularly creative, when you had a great idea or maybe a string of ideas.  Step into the Dreamer position and fully immerse yourself in that creative time. Just experience feeling creative without evaluation or direction.  When you've dreamed your fill step back to the neutral place.
  4. Now recall a time when you were careful and prudent in planning and re-planning something.  Perhaps you were taking some big financial step or planning a journey.  You were very aware of the practical issues and the actions required to carry your plan through.  Now step into the Realist position and re-live that time as vividly as you can.  When you've finished that return to the neutral position.
  5. Finally, think of a time when you were able to criticise a plan constructively.  That is, you could point out the strengths and weaknesses in someone's idea and ask the key questions that related to the value of the outcome.  Then return to the neutral place.

    Take your time over these preparatory stages. It's important to build up the experience in each case, remembering the details, even using your imagination to add to them.  Actually being in the corresponding state as you stand in each place creates a link between the state and the place.  Now, when you step into one of the positions you will resume the state, able to access the resources that you need to carry out that type of thinking. When you've created your anchors in this way you can return to the same room whenever you need to and use them again.

    Now you can tackle the actual problem, using the three perceptual positions separately:
  6. Thinking of the outcome you want, step into the Dreamer position and allow yourself to ... dream!  Remember, while you're in this place you don't need to concern yourself with what's realistic or what's important.  You'll mostly be using visual representations for dreaming and you're completely free to visualise any number of thrilling futures, safe in the belief that you can't fail.  This is where you allow yourself access to everything your mind is capable of creating or recalling without any censorship.  When you've finished daydreaming return to the neutral position.
  7. Stepping into the Realist place, think about the practicalities of carrying out your plan. What needs to change to make it real?  Put things in the right order and imagine doing them.  In this position you feel what it will be like to put your ideas into practice.  Then step back into the neutral place.
  8. Next, step into the Critic position and look for the flaws in the plan.  What's in it for you?  Will you be able to get co-operation from other people? What will it cost in time, effort, cash and emotion?  Will you carry it through?  This is essentially an internal dialogue.  You allow your inner critic full rein.  Finally, return to neutral position.
  9. Now, having pulled the plan to pieces you can return to the Dreamer position and use your creative imagination to make it again, better than before.  You can continue to move around the three positions, utilising the different resources in each one, until you have arrived at a plan that passes the Realist's test of practicality and the Critic's test of value.

So that's the Disney Strategy.  It helps you to utilise your creative abilities by putting them in partenership with the Realist and the Critic rather than allowing them to conflict.  For most of us, the Dreamer hasn't usually won that contest.