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"See, Feel, Change": Emotions as the Catalyst for Moving Forward

Although we humans don't like to admit it, we are very emotional creatures. We think that we're logical and rational, but the more you dig into how we really operate, the more you realize that we are driven by our emotions. We then go looking for logic to justify our emotional choices. It's the Rider and the Elephant issue. 

If you're feeling stuck in some aspect of your work or career, rationally knowing that something needs to change, but not getting anywhere with it, it might be because you aren't really feeling the emotional impetus for change. 

I was reminded of this insight while reading Chip and Dan Heath's article on emotions as the catalyst for change. It's focused on creating change within organizations, but I would argue that the same process applies on an individual level. 

The emotional route to change is felt--you see or experience something, it sparks feelings within you, and from that you are motivated to make changes. 

Sometimes the feelings are "bad"--your boss screams at you at a particularly vulnerable moment and you are slammed with shame and/or anger that drives you to start looking for a new job. 

Sometimes the feeling that moves you forward is desire. I've seen many people spend time in a different environment, for example, where they have an opportuntity to experience peace or curiosity or mastery, autonomy and purpose. A spark of desire flickers within them and they realize they need to do something different with their lives. 

One of the problems we experience with our careers, though, is that we often block ourselves from feeling the emotions that would drive us toward needed changes. We stuff the emotions to be more "professional" or we use distractions to avoid having to really feel anything. 

But it's the emotions that would give us the lift we need to move in a different direction. We need to feel if we want to create needed changes in our lives. 

As the Heath's argue, "it takes emotion to bring knowledge to a boil." 

So how does this translate into action? 

First, if you're feeling stuck, don't kid yourself into thinking that more information is what will help you change your mind or make new choices. Most likely there's some emotional switch that hasn't been flipped. 

Explore the feelings that may be holding you back from change--often they are rooted in our tendency as humans to favor the status quo

Then look for ways to activate the emotions that could ignite change. Find ways to experience them, rather than blocking them. For example, if you know that you've been unhappy with your current job, but aren't making the changes, really let yourself FEEL how unhappy you are, rather than trying to explain it all away. This can start to move you forward. 

Or on a more positive note, pay attention to what you want more of in your life. Allow those feelings of desire to stir within you so that they can be really felt. 

I've also found that it helps to create some visualization of the issue. Note that the first part of the change process here is "See" and the Heath brother's article offers several examples of people using visuals to spark the emotions for change. That's why I find the VisualsSpeak process so powerful--it gives you a visual reference point that can fire up the emotions needed for change. 

Motivation for change is not a rational process. It must be deeply emotional to override our status quo bias. So if you want to make real changes, stop looking for "answers" and more information and start looking to FEEL your life more fully. 

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