Newsletter: Did You Know Your Thoughts Are Not Real?

Your thoughts, beliefs, ideas and other cognitive forms are only an approximation of reality.  Not reality itself.  We have experiences that cause insight into reality, and then we form cognitive frameworks to describe and categorize those experiences.  There is no way that a description of an experience can duplicate the full reality.

Unfortunately, many navigate the business world as though the thoughts and beliefs recorded in their memory banks are real.  This false understanding leads to loss of market share, incorrect business strategies and the loss of billions of dollars.

The Nature of Thought

Thought precedes manifestation and is, therefore, a key tool for a business person. It is the greatest gift to mankind, and the most dangerous. Yet many business people do not understand how thought works.

It is clear that human thought is one of the sources of creation. Some say that thought, itself, has the power to create reality. There is plenty of evidence to support this view. All architecture, businesses, governments, art and civilizations are the product of thought. Many social scientists, psychologists and philosophers say that thought creates our reality. We categorize the world around us through our thought systems. The problem is we often confuse our thoughts for reality.

Thoughts create beautiful realities; they also create horrible realities.  For example, an anorexic person will look in the mirror and see fat, even though there is none.  They may be starving themselves to death, but their thoughts tell them they need to lose weight in order to be accepted.  This is called a cognitive distortion. Of course, this is an extreme example.  But all of us experience some kind of distortion, and it can be dangerous for a leader to have too much distortion when making business decisions.

Thought is Comparative

You cannot make a statement in English without making a comparison. Examples are: good compared to bad, day as opposed to night, winning as opposed to losing.  Even if you say you are neutral, it is compared to having an opinion.

Our thoughts form a comparative matrix in our minds that describe how we see the world. The difficulty is when we confuse this matrix recorded in our memory from the past with present reality.  A genius knows new realities do not come from the cognitive frameworks in their mind, but from, as Albert Einstein said, “Discovering existing realities that were previously unknown.”

A strongly held conviction about a certain strategic direction might prevent insight into present reality, just as the anorexic person decides not to eat. How then as leaders do we reduce our cognitive distortions and make decisions closer to the reality of the flow of business and financial markets, which unlike our thoughts are not static comparisons?

Knowing the Difference

When I was working as a leadership consultant and coach to the Chairman and CEO of a large financial services company during the summer of 1987, many people were coming to me questioning the CEO’s actions.  He had asked the investment department to slowly move all investments out of the stock market into conservative investments.  This frustrated his investment team because the stock market was at an all time high and their competitors were using “High Yield Bonds” and stocks to create gains.  They wanted to play in the stock market and the CEO was telling them to step back.

Many came to me, as the CEO’s coach, to suggest I persuade him of the foolishness of his actions.  I explained that I was his leadership coach and had little knowledge of the financial markets, but encouraged them to speak directly to the CEO. However, no matter how people pleaded, he would not change course.  Several key players resigned and went to more “progressive” companies.

On October 7, 1987, while I was on site, the market crashed.  It was the biggest crash since the Great Depression.  But the CEO had moved most of the companies investments out of the stock market and had not invested in any “High Yield Bonds;” known later as “Junk Bonds.”  The CEO was now considered a genius.  The financial gain was enormous.

A week or so later, I asked the CEO how he knew to pull all of the company's investments out of the stock market three months before the October 1987 crash.  He said, "I just knew it couldn't last." Everyone in his world thought he was wrong, yet he had the wisdom and courage to do what he felt was right.

He later went on to explain that, as Chairman and CEO, he was continuously bombarded with "experts" trying to convince him of different strategic directions. Each had incredible credentials and a good story, yet each recommended different directions. The only tool he had to make the final decision was his instinct, or intuition. He said, "Whenever I have gone against my intuition, I have regretted it.”

He explained to me, “The key to wisdom is to know the difference between your wild hopes and fears and common sense, intuition or true wisdom.” They often seem the same, but they are not. There is a distinct difference in the feeling.  One comes from your thinking about your own thoughts, and the other comes from a direct experience of reality. Great leaders know when they are lost in their conditioned thoughts and when their thoughts come from insight into reality. Knowing “the difference” takes practice.

In this case the gains were in the billions.  Those gains were entirely dependent on the CEO knowing the cognitive frameworks that most believed in were not reality.

Paul David Walker, CEO Coach

 
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As well as being a poet Paul David Walker has been coaching the leaders of Fortune 500 and mid-size companies for over twenty-five years. In this uniquely poetic book about the secrets of great leaders, Paul reveals some of the deeper principles behind creating new realities, which Paul believes is the job of a leader. He takes you on a journey into the heart and mystery of leadership forming a foundation for any leader to become truly great.

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