Are you at Cause or Effect?

Creative and Survival Cycle

“Life happens whilst you're making other plans.” John Lennon

One of the most common issues faced by people in their lives and leadership is: life happening.

Some of you are going to like this, others won't like this one little bit. Essentially, you have a choice. A very simple choice. You can either choose to create your future, or they can accept the one that you get.

Moving yourself from effect to cause

“But…” I hear you about to interrupt… there are no ‘buts'. Sorry about that. Yes, it is true that other people, the world, the circumstances around you may well prevent you from achieving your goal. So what are you going to do about it?

Can you cause the world do something different? There are many things that you cannot change… the weather for example. So the answer is…. overcome the problem.

Can you make another person do whatever is necessary? Neither I nor you can directly cause them to do something, though you can influence them.

“But…” I continue to hear… There are no buts. You choose to act to overcome the obstacle.

In any given situation, we start with a choice. We can act to make something happen, or, we react to the external situation. Both appear to start the same way. Yet, they start a cycle that is either virtuous or destructive in the long-term.

Most people who are motivated towards achievement and have a “Growth Mindset” are likely to be in the creative cycle. Those of you who are more motivated away-from things that you do not want and have a “Fixed Mindset”, will be in the survival cycle.

When you are at effect, you react to something external to you (or something that you believe is outside your control). Your primary purpose is to protect yourself (or your people).

Your personal values and beliefs will determine what you see as obstacles, both conscious and unconscious and these influence your choice to address or avoid the obstacles.

In the survival cycle, you will try to avoid the obstacles in your path to reacting to the external ‘threat'. And, as you try to avoid them, you will adapt or assimilate your reaction to do so. As a result of obstacle avoidance, your result is likely to be less than optimal. Most often the result achieved is not really the desired result. This leads to disappointment and your survival vision… “I have to”…”I must…” in order to survive.

On the other side, you can choose to take action. The desired end result could be considered to be exactly the same thing, and the external environmental pressures could also be exactly the same as for the person who ‘reacts'. It's a mindset choice that makes the greatest difference here. In the creative cycle, your purpose is to discover potential and possibilities.

You take action and come across the self-same obstacles. But instead of trying to avoid the obstacles, you address them. Experimenting and testing to find the best way to overcome the obstacles. When you find the optimal way to address the obstacle, you gain your desired result and CELEBRATE!. You have a creative vision… “I like to…”…”I want to…”

Survival cycle strategies that we employ (and we all employ them at some point) are often developed early in life and were originally a creative response to a situation. It worked then and achieved the desired results then. Later in life, we continue to use the same response yet circumstances have changed.

A common example of taking an early life response and applying it in later life that I come across frequently is when a child's parents use punishment as their primary means of maintaining discipline at home and as their primary means of getting the child to do certain tasks or chores. This often means that you may be choosing to be at cause, and using the creative cycle, yet those obstacles, well they turn out to be insurmountable… so you avoid them instead, adapting and assimilating, true, not getting the optimal result but, life really does happen whilst you are making other plans.

Do you want to be at cause for your life, or at the effect of life happening to you?

If you genuinely want the latter… read no more, you are in danger of gaining the former.

Are you like a thermometer. Reacting to the external environment?

Or, are you like a thermostat, changing and adapting and controlling what you can control to change the environment?

In their book “The Skilled Facilitator”, Schwarz et al, (2005) they describe a Life Learning Model, developed by Dr. Guillermo Cuellar, adapted in the diagram below to show the creative and survival cycles that people choose to follow.

Some examples of early creative responses that later in life become survival responses:

  • Examples of original causes – CREATIVE response when young
    • Examples of later behaviours in life – that are now SURVIVAL responses
  • “Eat all your dinner or I'll smack you” – ‘Accidentally' feed the dog under the table (especially those gray Brussels Sprouts!)
    • Abdicate (aka delegate) work I don't like or enjoy to others. Blame others for the mess they leave. (Think about the many bosses who've dumped their workload on you)
  • “Get a Grade A or I'll beat you” – Hide report cards from parents (get caught eventually but fewer beatings)
    • Continuously change reporting policies to hide information from stakeholders (think Enron and Kenneth Lay)
  • “Behave or go to your room without supper” – Stock up on foodstuff secretly in room and/or outwardly behave whilst inwardly rebelling. Hardly a punishment if you have Internet and TV in your room but still used.
    • “Play politics” sucking up to the right people outwardly whilst undermining them to take power away. (Think about Kevin Rudd's sudden resignation as Australia's PM)

Using the template

This template is a diagram to share consider whilst going through your own issue or obstacle.

  • Are you REACTING to something external, or did you choose to take action?
  • How are you adapting your behaviour to get around (avoid) the obstacle?
  • Can you accept (some or all) of the responsibility for your own actions and behaviours. (That even if this is caused by an external factor, that moaning about that and expecting someone else to deal with it does not resolve the problem for you.)
  • Consider the benefits of a creative response
  • Most often, you will find new ways to address the obstacle for yourself. Reframing can be used here powerfully.

View and download a full-sized infographic here.