Working with leaders around the country and in Asia and Australia over the last 10 years, I’ve observed that people tend to be “comfortable” when their momentary emotional needs (MEN—and that acronym is not an accident!) are taken care of. Sometimes we even interpret this as being happy. But often people ask for my help because they want to stop some habitual dysfunction and I discover that they are truly comfortable when operating in that manner. Comfortable, but obviously not happy, or my help wouldn’t be required. So what’s really going on here?
The Knower/Judger raises its ugly head once more
Somewhere in your youth (and sometimes later, but most of the K/J is developed in earlier life), you made a decision. Maybe you decided that yelling at people gets them to do what you want. When Dad yelled at me, I did what he wanted. Voila! That’s the rule!
So a situation arises and someone who works with you does something unexpected and potentially detrimental to your mission—and you yell at him. No problem, right? It’s how you get people to do what they’re supposed to do. It’s your K/J rule. Your role here feels totally comfortable. The direct report slinks back to his desk and does as ordered. Of course, there is the matter of the relationship having suffered as a result of the interaction…
Another example. Your son calls a tornado a portado. He got it wrong. You immediately correct him. It’s your job. You’re the parent. K/J rule. But he’s now certain he’s the little person in the room and you’re the big one. You’re comfortable with him realizing he’s wrong…but are you happy?
Are there other ways we could respond in these types of scenarios that might lead to feeling happy? What if your direct report were treated as and felt like your co-driver (and that’s a whole nother article, but it means your totally-trusted-got-your-back-would-take-a-bullet-for-you wingman). That would be a game changer in how you lead the mission. Happy!
And getting a hug and “I love you, Dad” from a little boy who feels confident would make you sleep like a baby tonight. Happy!
So, at least in some situations, comfortable doesn’t support happy.
How MEN cause trouble
When we have emotional needs crying out to be met in the moment—MEN—and we choose to meet them instead of looking at what we want in the big picture, we end up comfortable, but not happy. Passing on the MEN in support of the big picture can support our long-term happiness but leave us uncomfortable.
Doing the comfortable thing is automatic unless you recognize this. The comfortable course of action defines us. It comes straight out of our K/J, happens when we’re on autopilot, and keeps us feeling warm and fuzzy…at least for the moment. Sometimes we don’t even see the trail of destruction it can leave behind. Or we do and we don’t know how we can change. Or we do and we hire Kim and hope he can change us.
Making the change that leads to happiness
Once we start to recognize that there is a big picture, we’ve opened Pandora’s box. Now we begin to see how our comfortable response can be dysfunctional within the big picture. Now we can develop a feeling about that response.
Perhaps some of you have done the palm-to-forehead move and muttered something like “Damn! I wish I hadn’t said that.” Congratulations. You’re on your way! You’ve just practiced condemning that feeling of comfort you used to feel when you won the shoving contest and/or proved your kid wrong. And once you’ve decided you don’t like that feeling…you can change it.
You might have to start by acknowledging you did it again and forgiving yourself. My experience is that early on we can get mad at ourselves for continuing. Failing to acknowledge and forgive forces us to go back into the “comfort zone” where, unless one goes through this exercise again, change becomes pretty inaccessible. It’s not unlike an addiction. The alcoholic is only comfortable when he’s met his MEN, and so are the rest of us.
Acknowledge. Forgive. Change the feeling. Be willing to put up with discomfort in favor of the big picture. Change your life.