Horse whisperers of the mind

Hariraj Vijayakumar

Each human, a leader in themselves, can create value for the enterprise (just as they can create magic for their family and society). We call it performance at work. One can strive to be the best version of themselves when they sharpen the saw - learn, adapt, and receive constructive feedback from their professional environment. We call it striving for excellence. When one performs their best and pursues excellence, one manages to be in the best state of mind and body. We call it a state of well-being. Performance, excellence, and wellbeing are the three cornerstones of ideal sustainable human productivity. The human system goes out of equilibrium when any aspect is not addressed.

For the overall productivity of a business enterprise to improve, any organization must reskill the workforce and redesign the way of work to utilize best the innovations accessible. However, the organization depends on the change within the individuals, who must adopt new work designs and gain skills. While innovation through technological advancement has been amazingly high in recent years, the pace at which individuals change and adapt within organizations has not picked up the pace. To enhance productivity, we must accelerate human change in organizations.

In a prior post, I spoke of the four horsemen of the mind. These horsemen slow and derail any planned human change -  the equivalent of the apocalyptic version but no less powerful. For easy reference, I am quoting my description of the four horsemen from my previous post-

Change of any kind requires different behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs. This is hard for most adult minds. Let me explain why. Our mind is perpetually busy thinking and gets involved in thoughts. Just as the four horsemen of the apocalypse, there are four horsemen of the mind: four elements that affect our thoughts and thus our behaviors. Thoughts trigger emotions such as fear, joy, and anger; emotion is the first of the horsemen. Views are shaped by beliefs formed by past thoughts and experiences, especially those limiting ones form the second of the horsemen. Thoughts build upon unverified assertions or assumptions - the assumption is the third horseman. Last, thoughts are triggered by illogical beliefs of a cognitive nature. Bias is the last of the four horsemen. I call these four horsemen the mind's FLAB (Fears, Limiting beliefs, Assumptions, and Biases).

Just as some gifted individuals can communicate with a horse, can horse whisperers of the mind also exist? A promised land awaits if a horse whisperer takes charge of the four horsemen of the mind.

How does one take charge of the four horsemen?

The first is to recognize that our mind creates these horsemen. One must gradually build the mental ability to remind oneself to watch these horsemen from a distance. This requires two tricks. First, like the alarm clock that reminds one to drink water every hour, one needs a mental alarm to remind oneself to notice the horseman whenever they appear.

The second trick is to observe the horseman as they charge forward. We will use an example to understand this better. Emotions, primarily the negatively perceived ones such as fear and anger, form the first of the mind’s horsemen. For example, I am conversing with my teenage son, who forgot to take out the garbage in the morning. I am angry, and when I speak, the dialogue is driven by the first horseman – my anger. In turn, it triggers anger in my son, and the chat goes south rapidly (garbage disposal fades into the background!). At the start of the same conversation, if my mental alarm reminds me to notice my emotion, I can “see” the ‘anger horseman,’ ready to charge. The moment I see the ‘anger horseman,’ the ‘anger horseman’ loses its power and, therefore, cannot gallop and charge at the other person. A voice in me says, ‘I am feeling angry,’ and I feel that I can manage the conversation in a manner that is not counterproductive. We call this ‘sensing the FLAB’ – the first of super powers.

In the case of anger horseman, there are situations when the emotion is very intense, and the horseman is already galloping at the other party by the time we notice the horseman. It is challenging to maintain our observation position and not merge or identify with the horseman. As a person’s mental alarm become sensitive to more triggering situations, and as one builds conviction in the act of observation, one’s ability to ‘sense the FLAB’ becomes very powerful. This has the fantastic effect of slowing down most of our own ‘FLAB horsemen.’

Being in a mental state where I can manage the conversation with logic does not mean that I would do so. For that, I must know where to guide the horseman. Staying with the same conversation with my son, the first step, in general, is to acknowledge my FLAB to my son, in this case, my anger. Next is to use a conversational structure that allows me to engage him in a conversation that progresses towards my goal while eliciting and sensing my son’s FLAB (his emotion or assumption) in this situation. This is not easy, but it is a skill anyone can work on, practice, and become proficient at. We call it ‘addressing the FLAB’ – the second superpower. As you probably guessed, the second one cannot be attained without the first superpower.

Now for the world’s best-kept secret! Anyone on this planet can choose to be a horse whisperer by developing these two superpowers. No entitlement, special privileges, or vested powers are associated with this choice. It is purely a matter of our own will. As a horse whisperer of the mind, one can manage any human undertakings effectively and sustainably. One can then facilitate human change.

But is it all such a fairy tale? Of course not. The world has all shades of grey. Many great leaders have a solid, intuitive understanding of the human FLAB and its power. Several of them have the superpowers of ‘sensing the FLAB’ and ‘addressing the FLAB.’ How they use it to lead human change varies. Some leaders use it to incite the horsemen in a large number of people, for the horsemen to move faster and more powerfully, creating a movement. In contrast, some use it to calm the horsemen of other minds so that everyone has the agency to think and decide where to go. These are matters of choice.

Being a horse whisperer in a business enterprise enables anyone to facilitate human change and create the conditions for high performance, leadership excellence, and overall employee wellbeing. Yes, it is easier for the whisperer if they are in a leadership role. But a good horse whisperer can significantly influence human change regardless of their formal position.

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