This episode of Communicate I/O is all about decisions, decisions, decisions. Erica shares questions to pose to yourself and your team to help make decisions to reach your goals. She talks about the impact of open mental loops on your brain capacity and gives examples of how you can close these loops. Erica also stresses the importance of not second guessing yourself – stop thinking and start trusting!
This is a transcript of Erica Mills Barnhart on the Communicate I/O podcast. You can listen to the episode here and listen to more episodes on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts. Enjoy!
decision, messaging, discernment, second guessing, brain, question, mental loops, guessing, trust, team, energy, thinking, organization, leader
Erica Mills Barnhart
Hello there, Erica Mills Barnhart, Founder and CEO of Claxon Communication. Want to talk to you today about decision making. And the last episode I offered a one word swap to have more energizing and productive conversations about what you could do differently to get the results you want between now and the end of the year. I’m recording this in July that one was also recorded in July. So it’s kind of a halfway point, a pretty logical time to be like okay, how are things going? And do we want to stay the course do we want to change course, all of that. So in this episode, I want to dive into how you decide whether to stay the course or stick with your goals or switch them up. So the end of my three part masterclass with marketing guru Guy Kawasaki, which were, by the way episodes 38, 39 and 40, so this bit of conversation happened at the end of episode 40. Where we talked about, in broad strokes, the future of marketing. It was it was a free range conversation, all three of those, that masterclass was, but so many good nuggets, so definitely worth listening to. And at that point we were discussing, how do you know, when you should change your mission and vision and when to stick it out? My response to Guy was a paraphrase from someone I really, really wish I could remember who but can’t. But that paraphrase went ‘be unapologetic about your vision and willing to change up your mission’. Or put another way, don’t pick a different destination, but as new information becomes available, or the landscape changes, be open to changing up how you get there. Now, quick refresher on terms of this podcast how we define vision, mission and purpose. Vision, mission values, purpose. Vision is where you’re going and why. Okay, purpose is why do you, why does your organization, why does your team exist? Every existential. Mission, that differentiation allows your mission to be about what you do and how you do it. So a bit more grounded a bit more in the weeds. And then your values are the principles that guide your work. Okay, so vision, very big picture mission, obviously, you don’t want to be changing that up too often. Underneath that are your goals, right? So these are big picture choices and decisions. How do you make these decisions? Here’s the thing. How you make these decisions is as important as the decision you make, let me say that, again. How you make these decisions is as important as the actual decision you make. What do I mean by that? Here’s the question as you’re making these decisions, and you’re in the process of the decision making, right? Here’s the question to ask yourself. First, ask yourself, especially if you’re if you’re a leader, ask yourself this first. Am I second guessing, or using discernment as I make this decision? Eventually, you might want to ask, no shame no blame approach to posing this question, the same question, to your team, or whatever group is making the decision. Are we are we second guessing our decisions? Are we using discernment? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference really hard, right? So let’s look at what does discernment mean, originally it meant keenness of intellect, perception insight, acuteness of judgment. Sidebar judgment without the E every single time and I was a paralegal, so I wrote this word a gajillion times, still I just I want to add the E it feels awkward that it goes G to M. Anyway, okay, so discernment is an act of perceiving by intellect. So when you make decisions from a place of discernment, you’re using your prefrontal cortex primarily and making, let’s call them logical decisions with your conscious mind. Cool. Now, by the way, this doesn’t mean you have to have a robust data set or have done a randomized control trial to make a decision, lived experience matters, it counts your gut or intuition holds loads of information. And you could tap into that to what’s important is your conscious mind is driving the bus. Right? You can well and good say, my gut instinct says to do this, your conscious mind is noticing that gut instinct, yes. Okay, so that’s who you want driving the bus when you’re making these decisions. Second guessing is when your subconscious mind is driving the bus. Remember, your brain cares about one thing and one thing only really when you get down to it, and that is safety, not strategy. Unless strategy keeps you safer. Not joy, not any of the you know, good life stuff. Fundamentally, it wants its job is to keep you safe, because that was its original job was to keep you safe. For more on this, so highly encourage Britt Frank’s book on the science of stuff, we’ll put a link to that in the show notes. So much goodness in that book. Okay, so second guessing often leads to leaving things undecided for longer than they need to be. So this is fundamentally a question about trust. Do you trust yourself to make the decision? Whatever the decision may be. Do you trust your team? Does your team trust itself? Your board? Again, whoever is making the decision, it really it comes down to trust. When you’re a second guessing, it means you don’t trust yourself or you don’t trust the decision you were making. So let’s look at a few concrete examples. I’m going to start with just a little, little individual example, a little story. So recently I was in a town called Wenatchee, it’s in Central Washington, state where I live, thanks to Beth Stipe of the Community Foundation of North Central Washington to who I am forever grateful for introducing me to the most amazing baguette in North America. I don’t need evidence to support that. I don’t need to you know, look on Yelp, I have lots of lived experience. So I trust this statement that I have just made. It’s the most amazing baguette in North America. In addition to being delicious, the experience was delightful. They wrap each baguette in parchment and tie it with a bow. Oh my gosh, I felt so like jaunty carrying this baguette back to the picnic. I thought my daughter would find this delightful as well. So I brought home literally the last crumbs of this baguette didn’t need to come home? No, but it was so good. And just the packaging, you know, this bow was delightful. So it brought back the baguette bow and all. And when I was cleaning up later, I set the both side. Then I realized this created an open loop in my mind, as I need to remember to tell my daughter about the baguette. Open mental loops are a huge energy drain, even if it’s something minor, right? Like like in this example, do I keep the bow? Or do or do I not keep the bow that was my decision. Open mental loops are a hallmark of second guessing. I personally have great big, audacious goals. And so I’m always looking to close as many mental loops as possible, because I want my brain to be focused on the really juicy important stuff. And I have this firm commitment to myself to quickly weigh the pros and cons, you know, what am I going to do and then close the loop. So in this particular instance, I weighed the pros and cons and decided to recycle the bow and close the loop. It just wasn’t worth keeping it open. Now you might have made a different decision as your pros and cons may have been different. But either way, you’d want to close the loop either by committee to tell me the story of the baguette and the bow. Oh my god, someone please write a short story with that title, the baguette and the bow, pretty please. Or the other decision might have been recycling the bow, which was which was my decision. I’m not suggesting one decision was better over the other, rather, I’m advocating for decision to be made so you can allocate your precious brain energy to more important matters. Okay? So when we leave these open loops on, you know, pretty minor stuff like that it is so worth noticing so you can ask yourself, so you could have that awareness, so you can ask yourself, Is this the best use of my mental energy? Like who’s driving the bus? So is this the best use of my mental energy and who’s driving the bus? Now two examples from a more professional context. Not everything can be about the baguette and the bow. By the way, for anyone listening in Wenatchee that baguette is at that adorable bakery called La Vie En, which for any of the Frenchie’s out there it’s a riff on La Vie En Rose. So good. So two examples moving on. Second guessing how you handled sort of a situation, where was you individually communicating. And then also second guessing new messaging, which that happens a lot. And we’re gonna talk about why that happens. Okay, so on the first we’ve all been there, you have some sort of interaction with someone, and then you replay that interaction in your head again, and again and again. And this is human. Whether or not it’s at home or at work, right, you’re wondering if you handled something well, you know, and that sometimes can be helpful, you can sometimes learn from it. However, just we don’t learn a lot by playing out all the comebacks or zingers we wish we thought of in the moment, that can be like fleetingly gratifying, but again, is that the best use of your limited mental energy? It can help you process sometimes, but you got to put a time stamp on that mental activity, right, that time stamp that like set a timer and then move on. Because again, your brain only has so much energy, and there’s likely higher level things for it to be focused on. Now, I work on this with a lot of my coaching clients. You know, so I’m doing communication coaching with them and my question to them again, is, Are you learning? Is this decision to keep wondering about this coming from a place of discernment? Or are you just straight up second guessing yourself? Right, so a place of discernment would mean, there’s actually high stakes, this conversation, and the way I handled that I believe, might undermine our ability to make a good decision or it might have a ripple effect that really is not in the best interest of my team, of the organization, of our mission. That’s discernment. That is your logical mind, you know, you’re just driving the bus. Yeah, second guessing looks a lot like this rumination and just continuing to go on and on. Right, so a client, this is pretty common, might have given a board presentation, and gotten like a muted or a less than enthusiastic response, especially, you know, when you’re doing this on Zoom, or Teams or whatever online, this is a toughie. Like, we have very limited biofeedback and so absent additional information, you know, this leader might think the response is negative, that that is the default setting for our brains, negativity bias. So that’s because of our brains wanting to keep us safe, right? So a couple of things there one, like, actually just a technique, suggestion, if you are virtual, I mean, in person as well, but you have so much biofeedback, what I really encourage clients to do is I should pause and say, Gosh, I really want to know your response to this, you know, or whatever your prompt is going to be. I’m not getting enough feedback. Can you pop in chat or come off mute and really, let me know what you think about this? I really want to hear it. Right. But what’s your take, but pause the conversation and proactively elicit the feedback. I’m not quite sure why we don’t do that more often. I think it’s a fear of conflict, or, you know, anyway, there’s lots of reasons again, I work with my clients on that as well. But I definitely encourage you to do that because otherwise you were setting in motion, this negative mental loop. And so the questions I’d ask here are one does muted necessarily mean bad or negative? Do you have like hard evidence of that? Or is there a different interpretation? Yeah, to what action can you take to find out what the deal is, again, I just offered you one, you know, technique, but you could follow up with your sort of key people on the board or you know, the board as a whole and then, you know, we are so like I said, we’re so worried about asking follow up questions, but it’s a fast track to clarity. So I really do encourage that. Number three, does it serve you to keep thinking about this? Is there more to learn? Like really, is there more to learn? Is there something in this that’s going to help you grow as a leader? If so, terrific. If not, move on, timestamp, the rumination and move on. Yes, some of you are probably like, that’s really hard. It is really hard. And that’s where the word nope, which I talked about in the last episode, thank you, Katie, Sturino for that. So go listen to that, because you can nope your way out of this. Third example, I’m doing a lot of messaging refreshes or upgrades these days. So you want your messaging to be what I refer to as COVID compliant. I’ll talk about more specifics about that in future episodes, but basically, our brains have changed, you know, through through COVID. Whether or not you had COVID or not just the experience of a global pandemic has really changed our brains. We can’t absorb the same amount of information we take information in differently. There’s all these things that you want to take into account and kind of have to take into account if your messaging is going to work for you. And if you’re not, you’re losing time, money, energy, trusts, all the everything every day, so it’s really worth taking some time and doing the refresh now the refresh or an upgrade, isn’t a full blown overhaul. That’s a different thing. And some organizations this is a time to do that. But let’s just stick with what every organization needs to do is a refresh. Is it COVID compliant? Okay, so even with a refresh, even when we’re changing just a few words, especially since our central nervous systems are like wackadoodle right now, lots of things that are perfectly safe and would have been like ho hum before, put our brains on high alert. Where do you think I’m going with this? So using different words can feel uncomfortable, aka unsafe, and so let the second guessing begin, because again, second guessing is our subconscious mind trying to keep us safe. Now I work with high performing purpose driven clients, they are smart, they are whip smart. They’re so smart. They set a high bar. Okay, so they want everything to be at that level. Nothing wrong with that. It’s easy, however, for them to convince themselves that there’s something off about the messaging before they even start using it. And just for context, you know, yes, I have an accelerated way that I work with clients because the stuff doesn’t have to take as long as we’ve convinced itself, I can get through a ton in a day and a follow up session, which generally takes six to nine to 12 months we can get through in a day with a little bit of follow up. So there’s a process it’s a rigorous process, we get input in the process. So sort of assuming that something along those lines has happened, usually, the messaging is pretty solid. Maybe there is something wrong, but until you start using it, you’re not going to know and what happens is, even before the client starts using it, they’re already poking holes. You know, they’re like, oh, it’s off. You know, you’re second guessing, not the messaging, but yourself. Right, I mean, that again, this is getting down to trust, trusting the choices you’ve made as a leader and as a team. When this happens, you have to like calm your subconscious mind, thank it for keeping you safe. Let it know you’re good. Yes, that sounds weird. And woowoo. Yes, it works. It’s based on neuroscience, and then bring that prefrontal cortex back into the driver’s seat, right? Is it second guessing? Or is it discernment? Is leaving this, when it is a team, this is a whole bunch of mental loops. This is so much mental energy, that is going to wondering if this message will work rather than shifting gears and being like, let’s find out, right? Let’s find out. But the only way you’re gonna find out, because you are not the target audience, the author of the messaging is most often not the target audience. So when I’m working with a team, I can nip this in the bud pretty quickly. But if you don’t have an objective, like tough love Coach like me on your team, it can be really tough to discern whether it’s discernment or second guessing. So two pieces of advice here, one, just try it, put it out there, right and start using it verbally, the stakes for this are very low or update your website. Again, the stakes are low, and what you’re looking for before you go into printed material, right, which is hard cost, but either way you want to move from creation into it’s in the world, okay? And you’re not going out to your target audience and saying we have new messaging, what do you think? That hops you down a bunny trail that is not useful, unless you have the budget to really do it in a way where you like are getting it a 95%, you know, you have a 95% confidence interval that you’re getting back high quality information. Instead, there’s another way to do this, you start using it, and you see what questions you get. And are those questions moving people around your engagement cycle? I talked about the engagement cycle, I think it’s back in episode three. Just the basics of it are everybody needs to move around engagement cycle from know, knowing you, knowing your organization, to understand, to engage. Are people moving around the engagement cycle more quickly, more deeply? Like whatever your goals were, are you getting the results you want from the messaging? Okay, so that’s number one, just start using it. And number two, ask a better question. Just like in the previous episode, I pointed out the what should we do is a lesser quality question than what what could we do? Similarly, do we trust this messaging will resonate is a higher quality question and do we think this messaging will resonate. Think is going to keep you locked into second guessing nine times out of ten. Stop thinking and start trusting. So in other episodes, I dive deeper into how do you know your messaging is working? So if you’re curious, go back. But again, are you seeing people ask questions and move along that engagement cycle? Okay, so that’s the two things on sort of nipping second guessing in the bud. And, you know, as a leader, if I’m counseling you, I’m gonna say, literally add up the hours, add up the hours of the second guessing versus, like, what are the stakes? What are the pros and cons of maybe it won’t resonate? Okay, what’s, what’s the true downside of that? Unless you have like committed to these, you know, big fixed cost investments, it’s low. And then you tweak and you course correct and you realize, oh, maybe when we use this word, we’re asked better questions. So, back to our original question, whether you shift gears or stay the course, it’s up to you. Just make sure your discernment is driving the bus, as a individual, as a leader, as a team who is making the decision. Make sure it’s discernment, and not second guessing, and some of being successful with this is having created a culture where people feel included and inspired and they feel safe back to that, to point out that it might be second guessing. That’s an act of courage. And a lot of settings and in others, t’s like, oh, cool. Wow. Yeah, you’re right. Let’s get it out there. Okay. A few key takeaways. Close as many mental loops as possible, start by noticing and then asking, from a place of love and compassion, no shame, no blame, is this a mental loop, I need to leave open? Does it serve me to leave it open? What will be gained by leaving it open? You can also try out on a scale of 1 to 10 or 1 to 5 or whatever you want it to be, How important is this decision? Like oftentimes, it feels like the decision about the bow and the baguette is the same about buying a car is the same about whether or not we rewrite our mission, vision, value statements, or fundamentally, course correct our strategy. All these things are not created equal. Just pointing out the obvious, right? So how important is the decision? If it’s not that important, if there’s little to gain and much mental energy to lose by leaving it open, the longer it’s open, by the way, the more mental energy you seep out, close that loop, open up the energy for higher level stuff. Second, second guessing keeps you safe. Discernment and action move you forward, true individually and organizationally. Third, trust more think less. Yes, that is ironic coming from someone like me, someone who loves them some thinking and some overthinking, I have walked the path I’m inviting you to walk on, I wouldn’t invite you on this path if I didn’t know personally that it yields better results. Trust yourself, trust your decisions. If you learn it wasn’t the very best decision, course correct. But don’t constantly course correct before ever leaving the station, right? Don’t get stuck in the station, you want to get the train out of the station, and see how things go. I want to share one last thing, which is I have been doing some thinking, actually, I sort of took a big step back and have been really, you know, once I started noticing how long things are taking and just had that awareness of like, it doesn’t have to take this long and the sooner I get clients results, the better they feel, the faster they’re getting the results they want, you know, they’re saving time, they’re saving energy, they’re saving money, because they’ve gotten through this piece of work a lot more quickly. I mean, I’ve been working with high performing purpose driven clients for almost 20 years so I have a lot of experience with this. I no longer second guess the advice I offer, whether they whether they take my advice is up to them. But I trust I’ve given excellent counsel, because I have a lot of experience. So one of the things I say to clients is, you know, just again, and again, it doesn’t need to take as long as you think. I don’t actually know why, where, when, how, we convinced ourselves that creating new messaging, or up leveling how you communicate as a leader or any of that needs to take 6, 9, 12 months? It doesn’t, I’m here to tell you it does not. Every once in a while there is an exception, right? So the more input you need to get, sure, but that can that can happen upfront, and then you can accelerate the decision making. So it’s not that I’m saying rush the process, the process matters, I am saying accelerate the decision making. Now the amount of progress you can make as an organization is a direct reflection of how much each individual team member can handle and your team and aggregate. Change is hard. It’s not for the faint of heart and we’ve been through so much change the past couple years. But there are ways to make the change feel less scary, less change-esq. And so I have developed a new suite of offerings that I’m really excited about and this is exact they what they do: they allow you to make decisions more quickly and with more confidence. So if you have morale, retention, culture, getting better results faster, advancing towards your mission, with more confidence, with more clarity, if any of these things are on your list, these accelerated fast track options may be perfect for you. So let’s hop on a call, you can book a free consult with me that link is in the show notes. Let’s figure it out for you. And if they will work, I’ll tell you, and if they won’t, I’ll tell you. Right. But if they will work, I’d love to see your organization, I’d love to get you to communicate internally and externally, individually, as a team, and as an organization as fast as possible. The momentum is so energizing, and something in motion will stay in motion, something not in motion, will just stay not in motion. So we want to get you and your team in motion, feeling fulfilled about their work, being able to communicate externally, internally, really having that communication fluency is key and I’m just going to belabor the point just a little bit more here. It doesn’t have to take that long. We can do so much in a short period of time. So the booking link is in the show notes. And let’s chat. As always, thank you so so, so much for listening. I appreciate it. I appreciate you. I hope you’ve gotten some nuggets out of today’s episode that you can immediately implement maybe some different food for thought. I’d be very curious to learn what mental loops you decide to close. Do good, be well, and I will catch you next time.