Want a life that works? When you notice you are ‘on it’ then ‘get off it’!

If I want to ‘Play BIG’ then it is necessary that I be present to and mindful of ‘i getting on it’. And when I notice that ‘i is on it’ then ‘I get off it’. Sounds a bit abstract so let’s make it concrete and personal by sharing what happened this morning.

Guess what happened this morning?

Everything was OK, I had just returned home from dropping my daughter off from school.  I was in the kitchen (alone) and enjoying the peace.  Then my wife came into the house and started asking where the three boxes of presents (I assume they are presents as they were gift wrapped) came from?  My eldest son replied that he did not know.  I said that I did not know – I had not even noticed that they were there sitting on the black granite kitchen worktop.  Either my wife did not hear us or more likely her automatic machinery was hooked by the presents because she looked agitated and continued asking where the presents came from.  At this the automatic machinery that runs me kicked in:  she is being unreasonable and demanding so let her have it and i let my wife have it.  i made my wife wrong for continuing to ‘demand’ that we tell her what was in the presents and who they had come from.  Clearly i was on it and giving my wife a hard time.

Then my wife brought my attention to what i was doing by telling me to get off her back.  What she told me and the way that she said it paused i and brought I into the foreground.  And I being that part of me that is mindful and present to the game that I am playing allowed me to see that I was acting out of Integrity with my Possibility and my Stand.  Noticing that ‘i had been on it’ I got off it: stopped telling my wife off and apologised for my behaviour.    And I was back to being peaceful.

If you need the theory then here it is

If I want to ‘Play BIG’ then it is necessary that I be present to and mindful of ‘i getting on it’. And when I notice that ‘i is on it’ then ‘I get off it’.  When I say this what am I saying?  Let’s unpack this a little:

When I speak “i” I am simply pointing towards the machinery that is always running me, you, us  (the default condition that goes with being human)’.  The psychologist and Nobel Laureate in Economics calls this machinery “System 1” and he is clear that it runs us the vast majority of the time and we (“System 2”) are unware that we are being run as it occurs outside of our conscious awareness.

The nature of machinery “i” is stimulus-response. When certain things happen in the world (stimulus) our machinery kicks into action and we ‘get on it’ meaning we become righteous, we act out of the mode that something/someone should be this way and not that way and we start ‘throwing our weight around’ in some way – some of us do this through aggression other do it in other more subtle ways best described by those that are experiencing the effects as ‘death by a thousand cuts’.

When I say ‘I get off it’ I am pointing out that at some point mindfulness will be present and I will notice that my machinery is hooked and throwing its weight around (‘i is on it’) and so it is the responsibility of I (what Kahneman calls “System 2” and Stanovich calls “algorithmic mind”) to get off it – I think of it as unplugging the automatic machinery and getting of ‘shoulding’, being self-righteous, dominating the situation (with my story) and invalidating others.

Insight and practices for noticing that ‘i is on it’ and for ‘getting off it’

‘Playing BIG’ requires that I be a master of noticing when ‘i is on it’ and then ‘getting off it’.  How do I become a master of this?  First by practicising mindfulness – the daily meditation is making a difference here.  Second, by deliberately putting in place times/practices during the day (e.g. lunch) that call me to be mindful.  Third, committing to ‘getting of it when I notices that i is on it’.  Kahneman points out that spending time in advance thinking/picturing what we want is a good way of programming ‘System 2’ (the reasoning mind) to do a better job of monitoring/controlling the automatic machinery.  I used to be pretty good at these practices (and they worked) before I gave them up and entered a long period of darkness.  So I am confident that I can be great at them this time round.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

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