When you get a new eyeglasses prescription, you have to be willing to let your old glasses go. Sure, you can keep the frames, but there has to be an actual replacement of the lenses so you can see clearly. You can’t just add one lens on top of the other. I know that sounds ridiculous, but this is exactly what people often try to do when it comes to changing their perceptual lens.
Let go of your story
You can’t adapt your lens to different perspectives if you insist on maintaining your current lens. If you hold on to your story, you’ll have a difficult time transforming your leadership, or even your life. We tend to identify ourselves with specific self-images, such as the person who always has to be right, the smartest person in the room or the person who is always overlooked for promotions, accolades, etc. in the workplace. When you can’t let go of these personas of who you think you are, it can be incredibly difficult to even think about changing your perceptual lens. After all, if you aren’t the person you believe you are, then who are you?
Understand your perceptual lenses
Perceptual lenses are key to being mentally fit and come in two varieties:
- A helpful perceptual lens is empowering. It increases your options and choices and expands your possibilities.
- An impeding beliefs lens decreases options and often results in being stuck.
You can consistently challenge your perceptual lens by asking two questions:
- Is this lens impeding or helpful?
- Did I choose this lens or was it imposed on me by the way I was brought up and/or by my past experiences?
What’s your story?
Let me clarify what I mean by having a “story” about yourself. It’s not that you’re deliberately making things up or trying to present yourself as someone you’re not. Your story is what you believe about yourself—and you live by these beliefs. For example, it could be what you believe or don’t believe is possible for you in life, what you believe or don’t believe about trusting others or what you believe or don’t believe about your own capabilities. I call all of this your story. And it’s unconscious for most people. Their story grew out of the many experiences they had growing up and what their parents and society indoctrinated into them.
Why is your story potentially a roadblock? As the author Anaïs Nin famously said, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Your story drives your moods and actions. For example, if your story about yourself is that you’re a very skeptical person that translates into behaviors of distrust, lack of curiosity, distancing from others and so on. You’ve shut down so many possibilities because your story of being skeptical prevents you from fully engaging except with a highly distrustful lens. Or maybe your story is you must have everyone like you or approve of you. That’s going to lead you to say and do things that might be out of alignment for you, as well as lead to you putting energy into maintaining relationships you don’t actually care about!
As a leader, probably the most negative lens you can hold is the impeding lens of “people can’t change,” which usually ends up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. The opposite perspective “people can change” is not only a helpful lens but an accurate lens. Despite that, many people staunchly choose the impeding lens: “people can’t change.” Their belief is so strong that they can’t shift their mindset even though there are multiple studies that support the idea that yes, people can change. In fact, your brain has a tremendous ability to grow, change and adapt at any stage of your life.
So, your story creates roadblocks because it dictates how you will see or interpret everything around you. And your story inhibits change. In my experience, if you begin to consciously try out new assumptions and new beliefs, your story is going to rear up in full force. It’s going to do everything it can to prevent you from changing.
Lean into your lenses
There are lots of psychological reasons for this, but the important thing is to recognize that resistance for what it is and to press forward even if it feels hard or uncomfortable. Even if it feels off, contradictory or just plain impossible, keep at it. Once that new lens starts to stay in place, it actually becomes the new you. That’s when the work really begins. When you become conscious of your stories, you can make systemic changes, changes that will stick and transform your leadership as well as your life.
This is just one topic I discuss in my best-selling book Leading Lightly. It’s a handbook to lowering your stress so you can think with clarity and lead with ease no matter what your day throws at you.