Monday, August 31, 2009

Doing Is Believing

The other day, Brian and I were talking about business plans that he'd been developing. We talked about things like time allocation, effort, positive cash flow, when the business would be profitable, and so on. As we spoke, there were some questions that I would consider fundamental, that Brian didn't seem to have the answers for and the thought occurred to me, "Hmmm...., I don't believe this business is going to materialize."

So, I asked Brian about whether or not he really believed he was going to make this business work. Brian answered strongly affirmatively.

Then the thought occurred to me, "Hmmmm... I don't believe that you really believe that!"
If you know me, you've probably anticipated that I then said this out loud.

I did.

Brian, insisted that he did believe it; I insisted that he didn't.

Of course, my position was completely silly. I mean, I can't possibly know what Brian believes or doesn't believe. Only Brian does.

A Tree Falling in the Forest
As I thought about our conversation, there was something about the correlation between Brian's beliefs and Brian's activities that didn't resonate for me. I'm not talking about Brian being inauthentic or lying or pretending, I'm just talking about consistency between his actions and his words.

Before proceeding, I'd like to clarify a couple of things:

First, this sense on my part is a reflection on me, not on Brian. I have beliefs on what it means to believe that you're going to start a business; I have beliefs about the actions that you would undertake commensurate with the starting-a-business belief.

Second, by actions or activities, I'm not just talking about the task list; I'm also talking about the amount of time involved, the quality of the activity, and the level of effort.

So, the thought occurred to me that it didn't actually matter if Brian believed it or not. All that actually matter was Brian's actions.
If a belief occurs in the mind without any action to manifest it, does the belief actually exist?

For me, the answer is "no".

Cart-Horse, Chicken-Egg, Belief-Action
So, I've concluded that a belief without commensurate action may be fun to talk about, but in the end is a bit masturbatory.

The other thing that I've concluded is that action and belief form what's called a virtuous cycle. We begin with a belief that we act upon; as we act, we reinforce, refine and develop our belief. As our belief develops, we refine and develop our actions, and so on...

In many ways, action and belief become inseparable. The question of what we believe moves from theory to practice.

The philosophy of happiness is a philosophy (not simply theory, not academic pursuit, and not religion), so what matters is whether it works or not. Discussing beliefs is fun, but in the end, we embrace the philosophy to effect change: change in ourselves, change in the lives of those around us, change in our world.

So, here's a little homework assignment that might be fun to pursue with someone close to you.

Sit down together and each take a sheet of paper. Draw two vertical lines segmenting the paper into three columns. Now, each of you do the following.
  1. In the left column, write down a belief that you hold strongly.

  2. In the second column, write down a list of activities that you regularly undertake (with quality and energy) that manifest that belief.

  3. In the third column, write down a list of activities that you regularly pursue that seem at odds with your belief. Also, in the third column, include any activities that would seem to be commensurate with your belief, but that you don't regularly pursue with quality and energy.
Once you've each completed your lists, look at them together. What do your actions tell you about your beliefs? What would you change about your actions to get them to align with your beliefs? What would you change about your beliefs to get them in line with your actions?

Not Just for Personal Beliefs
The homework that I describe above can be a really great tool in business.

For example, if you're working with an executive team, you might want to talk about corporate goals or elements of your mission statement (left column). You would then list activities in the other two columns that either support and reinforce them (center), or don't (right). You would also include in the right column, activities that would support your goals, but aren't being taken.

This would also serve as a great tool for conducting regular reviews with employees, helping them to align their activities with their performance goals.

Paying attention to the alignment of your stated beliefs and you actions can bring tremendous clarity to your life and will dramatically accelerate achieving your goals.

Have an amazingly aligned week!

1 comment:

  1. what do you mean by beliefs? do you mean goals?


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