Ten days ago I was getting ready to go overseas and I got a call that nobody ever wants to receive. It was a call from a work colleague to tell me that the person I sit next to every day at work had suffered a massive heart attack.
The person that gave me the news was also one of two people that helped to revive our friend when he started to turn blue. If that wasn’t enough, this same person that helped revive our friend had also lost his mum a few months before in a similar scenario where he was present and saw it all happen.
With our friend in a critical state, I felt bad that I had to get on a plane in a few hours. I realised there was nothing I could do other than hope, but I still felt uneasy.
This unfortunate situation made me see our friend in a new way and look at life differently in these five ways:
1. You think about life without them
Instantly after I got the news of our friend’s ordeal, I started to think about life without them. Our friend was working on a project that has the capacity to change the face of the Australian business world.
He had years of expertise in his field that allowed him to see a vision for business that not everyone else could see the way he did. He put all of his passion into this project and went out of his way to bring in the younger generations to share the knowledge.
He always believed that his network was important and to treat people with the highest level of respect. It was this way of doing business that made me respect this man. Guys like him just didn’t exist in the usual business community and I wondered what would happen if he was not able to fulfil his vision.
I wondered if the person that would replace him would do the same job, with the same passion as him. When we see someone we care about go through a horrific situation like this our human brain defaults to a feeling of sadness and potential loss.
No matter how much personal development we do, this default mindset is very hard to avoid. What I found through this experience was that I had to become consciously aware of this default response to our friend’s situation. I was forced to see good in what had happened even though from the outside it may seem like there was no reason too.
I told myself that if he lived, he would be better than he ever was before and he would have a new way at looking at his health. I also told myself that if he didn’t live, that he had lived a good life and given everything he could to his work and family.
I told myself that if he were to leave this world, that someone else whom he had taught would take over his role, and use the same attributes he had shown to fulfil the original vision.
See how the power of reframing the situation can completely change what something means to you?
2. You forget how someone is
When you work next to someone each day, it’s very easy not to be truly grateful for who they are. In the case of this story, it was only when our friend was no longer sitting next to me each day that I remembered how he acted.
We often don’t get time to fully assess someone and their impact until we are put in situations where we think we may not see them again. It’s not like we do an annual review of every person we know and rate what we like about them, and think back on what they have achieved (although this gratitude exercise is something we all should do).
Not seeing our friend each day made me see the void that was left without them. The office was a lot quieter, there were fewer visitors coming in to see us who had be drawn in by our friend, and we suddenly had a knowledge gap in our team that we never were conscious of before.
What is it that makes us forget how someone is? The answer, it’s the thousands of thoughts buzzing around our head all the time that numb us from being truly grateful for the people we have in our life. It’s these thousands of mind numbing thoughts that are holding us back from success.
3. You forget that there is a family involved
After our friend had a heart attack, I found that a lot of us defaulted to thinking about what this person meant to us, and the things that would impact us individually in the future. While the sadness affected me, I saw pretty quickly that I was completely forgetting about the people that were being affected the most – his family.
See that’s the challenge, we can be very quick to look at a situation based on the effect it has on us and not think about the people who are being affected even more than ourselves. I started to think about his friends, children and his very young grandchildren.
Sure the situation was tough for me but when I started to think about what it would be like for his close family, my pain very quickly began to dissipate.
It’s when we stop looking at our own life and start thinking about other people that we truly start to heal our pain and become a leader that everyone looks up to.
4. You think you could have prevented the situation
Another life lesson that I got out of all of this was yet another default way of thinking that we all have; we think that we could have somehow, magically, prevented the situation. For me, I started thinking to myself maybe I should have pushed him more not to drink Coke or maybe I could have used what I do on Addicted2Success to help those affected instead of going overseas.
These thoughts are a natural reaction and when I really thought about it carefully, I realised that I can’t be responsible for everyone else choices. If someone wants to consume something that is very bad for them, it’s not a good idea for me to try and force my beliefs or opinions on them.
I thought to myself, “Tim not everyone is trying to live to 150 years old and maybe they want to enjoy life and have a soft drink when they like.”
This change of perspective helped me a lot in thinking of our friend in a different light. In terms of not being present for the whole event, again, I realised that tragedy is going to happen in the world all the time and I can’t be everywhere at once.
In these difficult situations, the best thing you can do is let the people who are there step up and take care of everything (which is what happened in this story).
The last thing I thought I could have done to prevent or help the situation was to use the tools I use on Addicted2Success to help. Now, while I thought I couldn’t do this, as it turns out I did. When I returned from overseas, we wrote a card to our friend, and I left a heartfelt, inspiring message in there.
I then wrote this article to help the situation further as well as talking with the people that were involved and using some of the personal development tools I have in my toolbox. So we can’t prevent every situation, but we can always help, and it doesn’t have to be right away as these situations can have an effect for months and sometimes years.
5. You reflect on your own life
As I spoke with people about what had occurred when I returned from overseas, I had an unexpected thing happen; I began to reflect on my own life. Explaining how all of this had affected me made me reflect on what I was about to go through.
In a video I posted on Addicted2Success last week, I spoke about how I am about to go to hospital and what might happen. What became apparent is that I’m using what happened to my friend and the lessons I learnt, to help me with my own battle in hospital next week. Everything I was saying to others about my friend’s heart attack, I was also saying right back to myself.
Maybe all of this madness was in some way meant to happen so that it could help me with my own struggles. Maybe that was the empowering reason for it all and I was just a participant in this life lesson that spanned across multiple people.
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Why Do We Have An Unconscious Bias and How Can We Manage It?
When I hear someone using my name once in a while throughout the conversation we are having, I cannot stop myself thinking “this person must have read Dale Carnegie’s books or must have been influenced by someone who read them…” Have you just recalled a similar moment and it felt nice?
As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and the most important sound in any language”. Why did Dale Carnegie highlight the importance of an individual’s name to that person in his “How to Win Friends and Influence People” book published in 1936?
Each and every one of us wants to feel special and unique. I guess he recommends using the person’s name in the conversation because that is one of the easiest ways to grab that person’s attention so that we can enhance the chances of getting our point across. However, I am more interested in this from the other side; hearing our names directly addresses our individuality, our need or desire to feel special and unique.
Let’s park this one for now and we will come back.
Categorization is essential to our survival
There is countless scientific research telling us about how our brains recognize similarities and put things into categories, which has been crucial to our survival in evolution and still helps us with a lot of things from learning new things to coping with the continuous influx of massive amounts of information through our senses.
The continuous influx of information is mostly handled by our subconscious mind rather than conscious. It is estimated that our brains receive about 11 million bits of information every second through our senses, of which only 40-50 bits can be processed by our conscious mind. We process more information than we are aware of. The magic here is the subconscious mind.
An example is when you are at a very loud party where you hear a lot of words flying around without you recognizing each one of them, then suddenly, you immediately catch it when you hear your name. Your subconscious had been processing all of those words, without your awareness, but informed your conscious mind when your name was out there because it was relevant to you.
In order to most effectively process this much information and inform the conscious mind with only the relevant ones, our subconscious employs categorization as one of its strategies.
When our ancestors encountered some deadly predators in the African savanna, their subconscious prompted their conscious mind to immediately fight or flight by categorizing the information gathered through their senses into “predator / life threat / take action”. Most probably we are not descendants of the ones that were frozen rather than fighting or flighting!
Although it is a completely different situation, the same strategy applied in remembering lists. Let’s look at the below two lists.
- lion, eagle, shark, leopard, hawk, whale, panther, falcon and dolphin
- lion, leopard, panther, eagle, hawk, falcon, shark, whale and dolphin
The second list is easy to remember because it is reordered into relevant groups even though the content of the both lists are identical.
Subconsciousness is the magic and categorization is one of its key strategies. It is essential to our survival, learning new skills and processing information as well as bringing back the information we had processed and stored.
This amazing skill has its drawbacks
As a result of our brains’ categorization strategy, we also categorize people, especially if we don’t know them as well as our closest ones.
Imagine I am sitting at the table next to yours while you are having your favorite coffee and working on your computer or reading your novel at your neighborhood coffee shop. I stand up, very calmly grab your bag, and start walking away. Your reaction might be quite different depending on my outfit. It could be much more vocal and harsh if I have a dirty T-Shirt and a pair of torn jeans on. However, if I have some navy colored, 3-piece suit and well-pressed white button up shirt on, you might even say something like “Excuse me, you might have picked up my bag by mistake”. (There is an experiment done by social psychologists which reported similar results)
Similarly, I would not be surprised to hear that my co-worker’s spouse is very skilled and knowledgeable in English grammar and literature because he is an English teacher. However, I would not expect it from my co-worker herself because she is an outstanding chemical engineer.
This is defined as unconscious bias or stereotyping, as a result of our subconscious brain’s categorization strategy. The outfit I have at the coffee shop impacts your response to my action, because it puts me into a different category in your mind depending on my outfit. My co-worker’s and her spouse’s backgrounds make me put them into different categories, which might mislead me sometimes.
Just like we categorize things, it is very natural that we categorize people.
The key question here for me is; how do we truly treat people as individuals so that they feel unique, just like as they would want, while we know that our brains categorize people?
We can overcome unconscious bias
Leonard Mlodinow, in his enlightening book “Subliminal”, suggests that “if we are aware of our bias and motivated to overcome it, we can.” That doesn’t mean that we need to fight our brain’s categorization strategy. We just need to employ our conscious mind more when we are working or dealing with individuals.
Our unconscious bias might tell us scientists are bunch of technical nerds who cannot understand abstract concepts that marketers are talking about or it might say that marketers are some daydreamers who need to be grounded by scientists to the real world all the time. I am an engineer and I love thinking in abstract terms and I worked with quite a lot of marketers who thought primarily in factual and concrete terms.
Spending some effort to learn more about individuals will help overcome unconscious bias. Gathering more information and qualities about them will make it easier for us to treat them as individuals rather than a member of the category we put them in our minds.
The moral of the story here is to recognize the fact that our brains do categorize, and it is essential; but also, to recognize that every individual wants to feel unique. When we appreciate these two and keep reminding them to ourselves, we are one step closer to figuring out our own way to overcome unconscious bias and treat people more like individuals.
What was the most interesting part of this article for you? Share your thoughts below!
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