The Power of the Indirect Way

Most of us try to understand ourselves directly.  We solicit feedback regarding the issues and areas that we are aware of.  We rely on our memory of events and try to leverage them for future success.  We read lots of self-help books and get attracted to experts in areas of interest.  These are all useful and productive activities.  They raise awareness, place us in a storyline, and we learn from past narratives.  It also reinforces the importance of taking the time to reflect on ourselves and not rely on our reflexive/Pavlovian or our more procedural/habit-driven brain.  Rather exercise the more evolved motivational/evaluative brains.  The part of our brain that slows down to evaluate choices and takes actions based on current information. For those with interest in this topic, these distinctions are ably described in A. David Redish’s great book “The Mind within the Brain”

However, by definition, the direct way has its shortcomings.  For one thing, our memories are selective and serve our current preferences and future longings.  Human beings are expert at editorializing and crafting artistic interpretations of the past.  To test this, think about the last time you were at a college or high school reunion and reflect on how you described your past life.  If you had a fact-checking gremlin on your shoulder listening what would the gremlin say?  Often the motivation is not to deceive but rather to construct a view of the desired future through selective interpretation of the past and it occurs at a subconscious level.  Politicians routinely use this technique to move public opinion in favor of their agenda.

The feedback we receive can also be incomplete.  After all, it is in the eyes of the beholder and it depends on the way their brain is constructed to process data and add meaning to it.  In addition, they may edit their comments in the interest of harmony and maintaining a warm or working relationship with you.  Finally, the very areas that you select to reflect on are also conditioned through your life exposure and self-awareness.  Our brains cannot process all of the information and stimuli that surround us. It is too overwhelming and so it edits.

So what are we to do?  How can we evolve and realize the destinies that await each of us?  One of the most effective ways is the indirect way.  Are there places in the world and people that inhabit them that seem right to you?  I find that when I am visiting and spending time in cultures that believe deeply in Karma and the full cycle of life which includes both good and evil, I feel whole and at peace.  Cultures such as the Hindu and Buddhist believe that the Karma you put out to the world will come back full circle to affect your life and/or your family. They also believe in the duality of good and evil (and potentially happy and sad) as the natural way and not an anomaly to be controlled through “happy pills”.  I feel less in flow with people and cultures that believe in command and control and the supremacy of human intellect over the natural world and other animals.  I am more naturally attracted to belief systems that are founded in how one lives life in harmony with nature and less with those that are based on institutions and doctrines that rely on control, ideology, and hierarchical power figures.   So I have been reflecting what attracts me to this mindset.  What does it mean for who I am and my evolution as a human?

Why do you feel comfortable and in flow with some of your decisions but regret other decisions?  What does that say or imply and is that aligned with how you are spending your time and energy and what kind of leader you are striving to be? Which of your faculties do you rely on when you make decisions? How is your internal voice informing you of the legacy you want to leave behind?  How are you aligning your resources and energy behind it?

These and many like it are what I suggest you discuss with your coach, therapist, or anyone in your life that you reflect with.  Your greatest insights regarding your life, evolution, and destiny will occur when you make space for intelligence that comes from this more indirect source.

In the Movie Baby, Baby, Baby, Sydney (played by Brian Klugman), seems to be caught in an endless and painful cycle of entering relationships and repeating the same behaviors which ultimately results in heartbreak.  He finally decides to abandon fighting for control and satisfying his “should state”. He begins to understand that the should state has blinded him to his destiny.  For example, his assumption that his ex-girlfriend must hurt less for breaking up with him turns out to be false. In fact, he finds out it was a crushing experience for her.  He decides to reflect more on what his inner self is signaling indirectly and rather than obsessing endlessly over individual occurrences, to see life and the actors in it all playing a role in his evolution.  In the end of the movie, we are presented with a glimpse of the destiny that has been awaiting him and a hint of him being ready to climb aboard.

A. David Redish. The Mind Within the Brain: How We Make Decisions and How Those Decisions Go Wrong. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Questions for Online conversation

  1. When was the last time you tried the indirect approach to understanding you and your leadership signature?
  2. If you have ever tried this approach how would you describe it to others?
  3. What have been the outcomes of listening to the indirect voice?





About Kaveh Naficy
Kaveh is the leader of Heidrick and Struggles executive coaching practice in North America. Kaveh focuses on working with leaders placed to make transformational and creative changes in their organizations. Kaveh has a proven record of success in harnessing the strengths of these leaders to achieve accelerated business solutions. He is able to create significant insights through reflective thinking, presence, and disciplined follow-through. Executives who have worked with Kaveh say that his strengths are his deep insights into the realities of the current and future business world, accelerated scanning of the environment and competition; creative out of the box thinking, and leveraging the collective intelligence of their teams and creating the organizational culture to support and foster the appropriate organizational design and strategies. They also point their deep trust and personal connectivity with Kaveh, his coaching approach, and style.

One Response to The Power of the Indirect Way

  1. Kathi Love says:

    Kaveh – this is a wonderful post and really spoke to me. Thank you for reminding me that there are multiple ways to access our insights and views about what makes us whole and complete. Kathi Love

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