Tag Archive for: choices

Why is it so hard to do the right thing?

Many years ago when I was still living in Israel, the government launched a national campaign to reduce the outrageously high rate of casualties on the highways. The campaign slogan was: “On the road be wise, not right.”

That slogan stayed with me over the years. I found it to be such a powerful and relevant principle for living.

In my work I coach leaders and teams. I have seen that even when people genuinely want to work together in a more authentic, courageous and effective way, it is often hard for them to do so. In most cases, people know what works and the right thing to do. However, it is still often hard to actually follow through.

For example:

  1. People know that gossiping about colleagues, “trashing” them and throwing them under the bus are undermining and hurtful, but they still do it.
  2. People know that saying one thing and doing another doesn’t work, but they still do it.
  3. People know that blaming other teams and people doesn’t fix the problem, in fact it makes it worse, but they still do it.

So why is it so hard for us to do what we know is right and truly effective?

I guess it is our survival mechanism…every creature in the jungle has one. Ours is our brain… or more accurately our memory. Here’s a likely explanation about how this works:

If we only remembered the good experiences that happen to us, we would walk around with a big smile on our face in blissful ignorance unconcerned with, and unattentive to potential threats and dangers that could come our way.

In order to prevent the exposure and vulnerability that occur when being overly positive, our brain holds onto negative experiences. In fact our brain thinks that even if we remembered the good and traumatic experiences equally, we could get complacent. It won’t even take that chance. So, our brain tends to mainly promote the traumatic, hurtful and negative experiences. For obvious reasons it feels these are more useful to keep us out of harms way.

It’s not that we walk around all day, everyday feeling traumatized and upset… well, some of us may be in that state from time to time… these memories tend to come up when the brain feels they could be most necessary for survival. For example: these memories often arise when we are about to make a bold personal or career decision. When we are about to take a risk or put ourselves in a vulnerable position, the brain alerts us through these memories that “this is not a good idea.

Having awareness of this mechanism empowers us to think for ourselves and make our own choices rather than allow our instinctual brain to think for us.

The assumption here is that we have a brain but we are not our brain.

We always have a choice whether to be right or be wise. By the way, not choosing is the worst form of choice. It’s choosing without taking responsibility.

If you choose to be right you will do things like:

  1. Gossip about others rather than communicate.
  2. Dwell in negative, cynical, sarcastic conversations.
  3. Blame others when things don’t work.
  4. Hold back information and communication that could benefit the greater good.
  5. Cover your behind when you feel vulnerable or exposed.
  6. Pay lip service to commitments and projects.
  7. Behave in passive aggressive ways.

If you choose to be wise we will do things like:

  1. Refuse to participate or engage in gossip, negative and backchannel conversations.
  2. Always have a positive outlook.
  3. Address issues openly, directly and completely and not let issues fester.
  4. Take responsibility for challenges and failures.
  5. Communicate and share information even when you feel vulnerable.
  6. Call people to the carpet when they are not doing what they said.
  7. Do what you say or let people know you won’t do it.

Being wise means doing the right thing, doing what you know works and always staying true to your principles, values and higher Self.

Being wise does not mean being perfect. If you want to be wise, you will make mistakes, screw up, stumble and fall. But, every time you recover and return to your commitment, you will become stronger for it.

Being wise, however, definitely requires courage.

Lastly, if you choose to be wise because it is consistent with who you are that choice will greatly empower and energize you. Try and see.

Photo by: Michael Krigsman