A few years back I walked away from the corporate world to get my Master’s in Persuasion and Social Change. I loved it! Getting that degree was one of the most challenging and satisfying things I have ever done. I did it for a number of reasons, one of which was to change the way I think and therefore change the direction of my career. But after I graduated I chickened out and took another VP Marketing job. I told myself that since it was in a different industry than I had worked before, it was a different direction. But ultimately I wasn’t able to persuade myself that the job was the right thing for me no matter all the financial, practical and professional arguments I threw my way and I ended up leaving after 6 months.
I have spent decades persuading people and I am even more enamored with the process since I got my Master’s. I love marketing because it is all about finding a way to resonate with and compel people to do something that you, and ultimately they, want to do. So it was extremely frustrating to me when I recently faced my inability to persuade and convince myself to change careers.
I realize that I am not alone in this conundrum. People face this a lot when making big decisions, like getting a new job or moving away, and small, like working out. I have friends who are constantly telling me that they should be exercising, they want the benefits of it, they feel great while they are doing it, but they are just not able to convince themselves to get out there and start sweating. Same thing when it comes to diets, the desire is there but they can’t close the deal.
More often than not, we blame these situations on outside forces; I’m too busy at work, I don’t have time to cook healthy, there isn’t anyone to work out with, or it’s too risky to quit my job. But realistically what it comes down to is that we have not given ourselves a good enough reason to do it. We can’t persuade ourselves to break our own routine, step out of our own comfort zone and make the change.
This inability is why best sellers lists are filled with self-help books; we are all looking for someone else to convince us of something we cannot convince ourselves of. When deciding to go into business for myself, I investigated 7 highly effective habits, talked to my lizard brain, stared uncertainty in the face, searched for the tipping point and thought about growing rich. Yet I didn’t finally decide to make the entrepreneurial jump until I stopped looking outside myself to find the push I needed. Once I realized that the person I had to persuade was me, I was able to analyze and counter the arguments I had made for why I shouldn’t quit the corporate world and started to focus on why I should start my own thing. This helped me to see that what was in my way was the financial risk of a start-up as well as feeling overwhelmed by the big picture. Understanding that, I created a financial plan that left me with a necessary safety net and I broke the process down into its smaller and much less intimidating parts. It was then that I heard the voice arguing that this would be quite an adventure and I have never been able to turn down a chance to go exploring.
It is so easy to come up with a lot of reasons why we can’t do something and a lot of people use that as the basis for their arguments. But focusing on the negative is not effective when it comes to persuasion. True persuasion happens when we finally understand why we want to or should do something, when we focus on the good and the benefits of the argument. It rarely happens when we focus on the why nots.