I just finished a book called “Leadership and Self Deception: Getting out of the Box” by the Arbinger Institute. According to the book, “the box is a metaphor for the experience of self-deception. In the box, we distort how we see ourselves, others, and even the world of work in order to justify what we haven’t done (or what we have done that we might regret).” When we are in the box, we are pointing our fingers at everyone else. We rationalize outcomes looking to diminish our role in any failures.
I am constantly in the box. I’m pretty sure that I rarely have ventured out of the box. If the bed isn’t made, it’s my husband’s fault. I’m impatient because my son isn’t ready to leave, it’s my son’s fault. I’m leaving work late because a coworker needs some advice, it’s my coworker’s fault. It’s amazing. I’m never at fault. Geez. I must be perfect. And quite the bulldozer as I roll over everyone in my life.
So obviously, I haven’t perfected getting out of the box however I am starting to realize steps to take to get there:
1. Wake up. One of the things I realized is that I am so frequently gliding on auto pilot. I’m not paying attention to my own thoughts and how “me” centric I can be. The first step is I need to pay attention to my view of the world and change the focus to others’ desires. As Cher said in Moonstruck, “Snap out of it!”
2. Flip. Change perspectives. I’ve spent countless hours surfing bleachers as my son is a high school wrestler. If you have never watched a match, the big take away is that in a matter of 2 seconds, who ever has the upper hand can change without notice. Your son is on the bottom, down on points when suddenly,with 8 seconds to go, he flips his opponent and pins him for the win. You can flip your perspective just as quickly. What’s it like being on the receiving end of me?
3. Service. Be of service to others. Be the giver. Hold the door open. Let the car in front of you merge in. Put the kids to bed, even if it’s not your turn. The way out of the box is to focus on the needs of others. If I start with service, my focus is outside instead of inside. Live the Rotary International motto, “Service above Self.”
4. Let go of reciprocity. I think this is where I get hung up. If I stay late to work on a report for my team, I expect something in return. Maybe it’s a “thank you” or some quid pro quo on the project that I’m spearheading. If I mow the lawn, isn’t my husband going to make dinner? I need to let go of the prospect of reciprocity. When I start looking for the pay back, I end up back in the box. Suddenly the focus is on you again. Let. It. Go.
5. People versus Objects. The biggest take away from the book is that I have to see people as, well, people. The minute I start to see people as objects, I am back in the box. If you think about it, you can’t have a relationship with an object (at least not a healthy relationship). Once you’ve turned your partner, your child, your colleague into an object, the relationship transactional. A means to an end. You are back in the box.
I am a work in progress. I appreciate that the book acknowledges that everyone has this problem. None of us are living outside the box all the time. Gives me room for hope. It gives us all room for hope.