Are your opinions making you impotent?

How we understand and explain the world (our assessments) controls what we see, how we act and how we feel.    If our beliefs and opinions are inaccurate or out-of-date we can find ourselves expending enormous amounts of energy without getting the results we want.   We can find ourselves feeling powerless, resentful and on the road to burnout.

If you’re in this situation, then inspecting the quality of your opinions (grounding your assessments) can help you develop new insights about how to achieve the results that you want.

Our assessments define our reality…

Many of the assessments that we hold in our lives are formed outside our conscious awareness and never get tested for their validity, yet they can govern our actions and the results that we get.  For example:

  • If I assess that cooking is a boring chore, I will do the minimum necessary and buy meals wherever I can afford to.  I won’t read recipes or shop for cooking utensils.  When I walk through a shopping centre I’ll see restaurants and cafes and pay not attention to delicatessen or fruit shops.   If I have to cook, I may well feel angry and resentful at the obligation.
  • If I assess that cooking is an enjoyable creative activity that brings me appreciation from family and friends then my experience will be very different.  I’ll observe for cook books, ingredients and kitchen equipment when I go to the shops.  I’ll look for opportunities to cook and most likely enjoy the activity.

My beliefs and interests shape what I observe, how I behave and even how I feel.

Assessments around sustainability…

What we believe about the world and how it works can limit our effectiveness in working for a sustainable future, rendering us impotent.  For example:

  • If I hold the assessment that the majority of waste happens when consumers purchase and dispose of products, then I’m likely to focus my sustainability efforts on consumer behaviour.
  • If I hold the assessment that government can control business, then I may focus our sustainability efforts in the political arena.
  • If I hold the assessment that businesses make rational, profit-based decisions, I may focus on promoting cost reduction or efficiency programs.
  • If I hold the assessment that fear changes human behaviour, I may focus on problem-based publicity campaigns.

However, if I have studied supply chain systems, life cycle analysis, service-based economics or human behaviour, I may see different opportunities to influence:

  • If I hold the assessment that one-way make/use/waste systems are a major cause of resource waste, then my focus may become closed-loop materials systems and design for re-manufacture.  My primary target audience may become product designers, supply chain professionals or manufacturing executives.
  • If I hold the assessment that consumers want valuable services rather than lots of physical products, then my focus may become educating major consumer products suppliers about the enormous profit potential of leasing “products-of-service” rather than selling “products”.
  • If I hold the assessment that most of the time, most people enjoy a creative challenge (and seriously resent being made to change)  then my focus may become publicising the opportunity side of sustainability instead of trying to terrify people into action.

Identifying your assessments…

Out assessments often live outside our conscious awareness unless we make the effort to identify them and validate them.  Pulling them out into the light of day and inspecting them can markedly increase our personal effectiveness.   IN the practice of Ontological Coaching  this process is called grounding assessments.

So pick an issue that you feel strongly about, where you feel you are spinning your wheels.   (If you’re reading this blog, it could well be around sustainability.)   Start writing about it and keep writing. Take a full five minutes to really explore what’s bugging you.   This is a private exercise for your eyes only, so give yourself permission for some serious complaining.   Don’t be nice, don’t be logical – play the blame game full on for this exercise.  Who should be doing what?

An example of some assessments about sustainability might include:

  • “The government should be making business be sustainable!”
  • “Sustainability costs business big money!”
  • “Changing my behaviour won’t really make a significant difference!”

Grounding your assessments and opinions…

Here is a series of questions to help you ground your assessments. It’s drawn from one of my favourite book series  – “Coaching to the Human Soul”:

  1. How does it serve me to hold this opinion? What future actions might it influence?
  2.  In which area of life or work am I holding and using this opinion?
  3.  What standards or judgments am I using to support holding this opinion?
  4.  What specific, observable, measurable facts am I using to support holding this opinion?
  5.  What specific, observable, measurable facts are there that contradict this opinion?

Often, when we examine our opinions (ground our assessments) we find that new possibilities open up for us from the review process.  This can happen even when we decide our assessment is well-grounded, because we’re taking time out to reflect and observe.

At other times we may find that our assessment is inaccurate or out-of-date.   We  may have been exerting effort or emotional energy somewhere pretty ineffective.  Knowing this, we can look for other more productive areas to act.

 Grounding our example assessment…

So lets take one of our sample assessments and ground it:“The government should be making business be sustainable!”

Examining the quality of this assessment we might find that:

  1. By holding this assessment, it might focus our sustainability efforts on the political system.  Or if we also assess we have no political power, we may feel helpless and hopeless.
  2. In exploring which domains this belief operates, we might find that we are only considering national government, not state or local authorities.
  3. In exploring the standards which we apply to sustainability, we may find that we’re not clear on what specifically we want controlled – carbon emissions, e-waste or water consumption.
  4. When we search for specific facts supporting our assessment, we may find that government can only attempt to regulate specific behaviour or outcomes.
  5. When we look for contradictory evidence, we may find that government cannot influence business strategy.  We may also find that (being human organisations), businesses do not always comply with regulations.

From this analysis – given we still want to influence business – we may start to look for new and more effective strategies for influencing our target organisations.

So now it’s your turn…

Go back to what you’ve written and start looking for embedded assumptions, opinions and beliefs.  Write each of them out separately.  There they are – assessments for you to ground.    Ask yourself:

  1. How does it serve me to hold this opinion? What future actions might it influence?
  2.  In which area of life or work am I holding and using this opinion?
  3.  What standards or judgments am I using to support holding this opinion?
  4.  What specific, observable, measurable facts am I using to support holding this opinion?
  5.  What specific, observable, measurable facts are there that contradict this opinion?

What new possibilities do these questions open up for you?  Are there ungrounded assessments that you have been treating as facts?  Where might there be leverage points that you haven’t seen before?  What actions occur to you that you haven’t considered before?

Want to be a change-maker?

Getting things done in the world requires us to deal with the world as it is – not as we want it to be, or how we understood it last year.   Identifying and validating the quality of our assessments – our opinions and beliefs – is a key first step in becoming a more powerful change-maker.

______________________________________________________

Leigh Baker is an Ontological Coach who specialises in helping sustainability practitioners become skilled in the craft of getting innovations adopted.  She runs group and individual programs around communication, innovation and sustainability.
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2 responses to “Are your opinions making you impotent?

  1. Pingback: Conversational practices for smart sustainability professionals | balance3

  2. Pingback: Creating clarity on a sustainable future | balance3

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