Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Are Your Decisions Influenced by Things You Don’t Know You Don’t Know?

When I first meet with a client, I tell them something profound.  Within the first 20 minutes of that meeting, I tell them they are still making decisions as a five year old.  In every single case, they tell me that that does not apply to them.  Over the next 90 minutes, they say something different.  They come to the
realization that the five-year-old version of themselves is still running their life. How is this possible?

The age of my clients range 35-62.  Most are CEOs or managers of midsize businesses.  The industries vary from legal to manufacturing.  Their education also ranges from Ivy League universities to highly skilled technical training.  I have even had clients who were once psychologists with a private practice.  As you can see, education, profession or socioeconomic class has not made anyone immune to this aspect of the human paradigm.  Making decisions, as a five year old is so much a part of our social construct that no one questions it.  In some ways, we are taught to think as a five year old when we encounter certain people or situations. 

For example, I know a woman, called Paula, who once asked me why she always had to be right.  I said you might have given the wrong answer when you were about five years old.  She enthusiastically responded by telling me about the time she was in the waiting area of a dentist’s office when she was five.  She said the dentist walked into the waiting area that was filled with children who were scheduled for an appointment.  When he entered the room, he was holding something.  He asked the children if they knew what it was.  Paula was the first to raise her hand.  When she gave her answer, the dentist said, ‘no, that’s wrong’. 

After that, she had no idea as to what happened in the room.  She immediately began to think about how stupid and embarrassing she looked.  Included in that thought process was a promise.  She promised she would never let that happen again.  

While it seems that was a past event and she should have gotten over it, she, like others, did not.  The fear of looking bad by giving wrong answer plagued her personal and professional life.  On the one hand, she chose to be a criminal attorney.  In that profession, the need to be right works in her favor.  If you’re an alleged criminal in need of legal representation, she is a great lawyer to hire.  She will fight like an alley cat to be right for you.  She wins most of her cases.  When she loses, she is devastated. 

On the other hand, as a boss, she manages her people almost like a samurai, in that her words are like a sword that beheads people.  She has her own practice with several attorneys and support staff.  And she fights her subordinates to be right, even if she isn’t.  Worse yet, she has not been able to successfully hire men. 

Without question, the fear of experiencing being wrong affected her romantic relationships.  She fights her significant other like an attorney in the courtroom.  As you can imagine, those relationships don’t last long.  
Over and over again, I have seen people make choices and sabotage great ambitions because they did not want to experience or relive an event that happened when they were five.  Because people believe becoming an adult exempts them from childhood trauma, they don’t know that they don’t know they are being affected by a situation that happened around five years old – for some it could have happened anywhere between four and eight.  This is probably true for every human on the planet. 

Anything that vaguely reminds us of the five-year-old experience will push us back into that mindset.  Because you have had that mindset since a young age, it seems like it is part of your personality.  It is not.  If anything, it becomes part of your identity and the lens through which you see yourself and the world.  Because that lens shapes reality, the person is blind to the fact they are responding to an incident from the past.  That becomes a blind spot or self-imposed barrier.  In Paula’s case, that blind spot shaped career choices as well as marital status.  To undo the five year old in you, you will have to reverse engineer your identity.  That way it becomes self-discovery.  Once you discover it, you can do something about it.     
What do you think? I would love to hear your feedback. And I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know.

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