You think people are all good. Your actions say otherwise.

Our fundamental beliefs about people are tricky. They stay hidden, even from ourselves, for quite some time. How can that be?  

First, why is this important? Our fundamental beliefs about people show up all the time, in everything we do. They show up in how we organize our companies and just about every other structure in our life. It’s become incredibly popular in the last decade to give a lot of lip service to popular management practices like Theory X and Theory Y. Almost all Silicon Valley companies who claim to want to change the world espouse that they believe and manage from Theory Y: that most people are inherently motivated individuals who respond to a level of autonomy by approaching their work in a responsible and creative manner. However, observing people’s actions suggests otherwise.  

I won’t bother throwing anyone else under the bus. I don’t need to. I don’t have to look any further than the mirror to find a great example.  

Here are two of the nastiest assumptions that come up for me all the time.

  • People don't make good decisions all the time.
  • People often don’t make decisions that are in their long-term interest.

Where does this judgement come from?

It comes from me. Let me be more specific. This is my most common form of judging myself. I believe I’m not always smart. I believe I don’t often act in my long term best interest.  

My judgements about myself automatically get projected onto other people. It’s subtle: If you do these things more than I do, then I can still be a good person. My judgement about you makes me feel better about myself. My ego needs that boost. It's my mind's defense against the habit of being overly self-critical.

The worst part is that this approach is actually a reasonable approach. It works. I feel better about myself, and my level of self-critique doesn't incapacitate me to action.  

The good news is there’s a different way. I believe it’s a better way. When I have compassion for myself about mistakes, then that compassion extends to you. 

Let’s look at an example where I might be working and worn out. I cave in and start drinking beer, and my normal story kicks in:

"I lack willpower."

"I’ll never be a successful entrepreneur if I do that."

"I know a ton of more successful people that wouldn’t do that."

All those comments are judgements about myself. Once I’ve knocked myself down, I need to regain a level of confidence in order to be able to act again. I look around and see lots of people that have failed the same or worse than I have. I judge them. I rationalize my screw up as not being as bad as the rest, thus restoring my self-image to the point where I can get back to work.  

Let’s look at a different path. I could say "Hmm, is there a pattern here in getting beer when I’m stressed?"  

Yes, there seems to be a pattern here. OK. What need is this serving for me?  

It’s serving the need of getting rid of the stress.

Where is the stress coming from?

It’s self-imposed because I want to be a successful coach within 6 months.

OK, is that belief rational?

In this case, no. I’m not going to starve if it takes a year, or even two years to make it.  

OK, so what other belief could I have?

Well, I need to work AND make sure I’m rested as well. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  

I found that if I take the lengthier and more introspective thought process, it re-energizes me. It doesn’t work 100% of the time. And rarely do I have the motivation and energy to tackle my hardest problem. However, often I’m motivated to do something else that’s still productive. Maybe it’s reading or learning something new that I can apply later.   

OK, I tell myself, that’s not a perfect solution, but it’s pretty damn good. Most importantly, it’s miles from drinking and self-judgement. Particularly, it’s the self-judgement that’s so detrimental. Like most people, self-judgement becomes a vicious spiral for me. Self-judgement is the real enemy I’m fighting. The best weapon I have in fighting it is curiosity.  

I believe that your fundamental beliefs in people stem from your beliefs about yourself. At least they do for me.

Does this resonate with you?  Let me know what does and what doesn’t.