Excerpted from The Responsibility Process by Christopher Avery.
You are dressed in your finest business suit for your big presentation to the board. And then it happens, you bump somebody in the hall on the way to the meeting and, as you are taking a sip of your latte, the paper cup slams into your face, its plastic lid pops off, and before you can stop it, two-thirds of the latte are soaked into the front of your finery, all the way from your neck to your waist.
You don’t laugh this off.
“Oh expletive!” is the first thing out of your mouth. Then with that accusing look of I-can’t-believe-you-did-that on your face, you turn to glare at the chump who bumped into you.
That’s how problems trigger The Responsibility Process.
Here’s a fuller explanation of what happened. You were in motion toward a goal (literally, in motion!). You had a serious investment of time, energy, and preparation for this important meeting. Then something happened that blocked your motion, something you neither anticipated nor liked. We call it an “oh, s___t.” Or we call it an “oh no,” an “uh oh,” an “oh crap,” or a “nooooo!” In your mind (the place that makes attributions of cause and effect), something is wrong. What’s wrong? While the answer is obvious—you are covered with espresso and milk, not a pretty sight—there is another explanation. At that moment, there is a significant conflict in your mind between what you want, and what you have. What you want is to arrive at the meeting looking good. What you have is completely counter to that.
This internal conflict—between what you want and what you have—is the source of anxiety. When you are in motion toward a goal, and you get stopped, then you have a problem. This is technical language for those of us who study and practice responsibility. When we have something we don’t want, or want something we don’t think we can have, mentally we experience it as a problem. We also call it an upset, angst, frustration, or anxiety. You know the feeling.
This is the trigger for The Responsibility Process. The trigger is the same for all upsets large and small. Anytime you are making progress toward what you want, and then you-know-what happens, you have an internal conflict between what you want and what you have. You have an upset, and that’s a problem.
It doesn’t matter whether it is spilled coffee or a river spilling over its banks and flooding your home. The mental response to something going wrong is the same.
In the next section we’ll look at what happens next.
Consider how many times a day The Responsibility Process in your mind is triggered by an upset large or small. To answer that question ask, How many times a day do things go wrong? How many things have gone wrong already today? Did it start with an alarm going off while you were comfortably snoozing and your next thought was oh no, I don’t want to get up?
Wouldn’t it be great if you could instantly recognize this trigger and know how to get to a totally resourceful state of mind?
Christopher Avery studies, speaks, and writes about the benefits and practices of personal and shared responsibility. He founded The Leadership Gift™ Program to make world-class personal leadership development accessible to individuals worldwide. His books include The Responsibility Process and Teamwork Is An Individual Skill.
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