The Power of Internal Shifts to Generate External Results

In my role as an entrepreneur and CEO during the dot com boom and bust, I learned many valuable lessons. The most important one was that no matter how things change around me, I always have a choice. I learned that no matter how wealthy I am or how well my company performs, I can always find a reason to be unsatisfied. And during the crash, I learned that no matter how uncertain or humiliating events become, I can always choose to look at my life with hope and adventure.

This awareness dawned after a fair amount of pain, and yet it was powerful, even critical to my navigating this difficult period. I came to realize that my joy, suffering, resourcefulness and effectiveness are directly related to how, on an internal level, I experience external events.

When I started my executive coaching practice in 2000, I often encountered a common theme in my new clients. They began conversations by describing how they needed a coach to help resolve company problems or to fix other team members. All the issues seemed to be “out there,” or somebody else’s problem. This analysis of the situation often left my executive clients feeling frustrated, because they saw no workable solution. I then introduced them to this formula:

Event, Thought, Emotion, Response, Result formula

Using this formula, I demonstrated how internal shifts create external results. Clients who chose to risk looking inside experienced rapid and sustainable shifts in their external circumstances. When they looked more deeply at the internal lens (their thought/belief filter) through which they viewed events, they recognized how the lens influenced their own feelings and therefore how they would respond to situations.

When you view a set of circumstances as a “problem,” how do you feel? If you see something as a problem because you believe you have no choices, you may feel anxious or angry. The circumstances are not the real problem. Your thinking is. Your lens often limits the options you have to choose from; it limits your potential. The more you understand your internal thinking, the more options you will create for yourself. Then you can make optimal choices to bring about desired results. It all starts with your thinking.

One CEO of a growing software company explained how he was extremely frustrated at the president/owner of a business recently acquired as a subsidiary. Given the money this president had received for his company, the CEO could not imagine why the president seemed so ungrateful and uncooperative. As the CEO’s frustration grew, he put more restrictions on what the president could do without approval. Over time a power struggle developed and the relationship deteriorated rapidly, which directly impacted the value of the acquired business in the eyes of the parent company.

Through our coaching process, the CEO began to see clearly how his personal judgments and beliefs about the president were stirring his own anger. This constrained his interactions with the president, who had previously operated as a highly independent entrepreneur. Before coaching, the CEO saw only external problems and solutions. Through coaching he recognized the source of his anger and resentment. As he worked to understand his filter, the CEO began to see the president’s fear and sadness associated with the sale of his company. The two began to engage in productive conversations around the topics of transition and independence. Eventually they came to a mutually acceptable agreement on how to stay aligned and also honor the president’s desire for a certain level of autonomy.

I invite you to apply this formula to an issue you are facing right now. What Thoughts – Emotions – Responses have you applied so far? Now remind yourself that you have a choice with respect to your thinking – what a great source of power! You can hold tightly to a belief that is driving your present situation or you can look more closely at the belief, perhaps even temporarily dropping it to see how your emotions change. The freedom, power and responsibility that come with understanding how our thoughts determine our reality are the basis of all personal mastery work for highly effective leadership.