What Are You Looking For?

Over the years, I have learned an interesting leadership and life lesson – one that you may want to resist. It’s simple: whatever you are looking for, you will typically see. Put another way, you will most often see and experience what you are looking for and expecting. More specifically, if you are looking for and expecting negative outcomes, then that is precisely what you will see and experience. If you are looking for and expecting positive outcomes, then that is what you will see and experience. While I am not a big fan of the terminology of positive and negative, in this case it describes the phenomenon well.

If you think something bad will happen, it likely will. You will either make it happen or you will tend to see it (the bad thing or the perspective of bad) happening. If you think something good will happen, it likely will. You will either make it happen or you will tend to see it (the good thing or the perspective of good) happening. Similarly, you are likely to miss or disregard anything that is inconsistent with what you are looking for or expecting. The same is true for results and outcomes. If you expect to fail at something, you probably will. If you expect to succeed at something, you probably will.

While these may not be absolutes, consider the logic of it and your own real-life experiences. For example, if you have a team member who you consider to be overly involved in drama conversations, do you think you tend to catch them engaged in the drama or not engaged in the drama? Similarly, if you consider one of your friends or family members to be controlling, do you tend to experience them being more controlling or less controlling?

There are many drivers for this phenomenon, but what matters most is being consciously aware that you are (in large part) creating your own experience based upon what you are looking for—often unconsciously.

Here’s another example. Consider a team member that you believe is rarely in their office. Do you tend to see them in their office and think, “It’s good to see them in their office”? Do you see them in their office and think, “That’s so odd that they are in their office”? Or, do you tend to notice only when they are not in their office? The challenge here is to be aware of when you are creating a perception based upon what you are looking for and expecting.

I have great confidence that people can and do change, but change is a two-way street. Yes, the person doing the changing must make the changes, which sometimes must be done in a visible way (because of the unconscious “looking” as discussed above). In addition, the people who are perceiving the changed person must consciously shift their “looking” to allow for the changes. In many cases, changes are happening (the person is changing their behavior), but the perceivers do not see it because their “looking” is locked into the old behaviors. I call this phenomenon not letting someone off the mat (like a wrestling mat). They are down, and we do not let them up because we are unconsciously holding onto our old “looking” patterns.

At some level, all of this is based upon an unconscious need and desire to be right, which causes us to only see and experience the things that will support what we already believe about a person or situation. The reticular activating system (RTS) also plays a role – that part of your brain that naturally and automatically sees what you are focused on. There is always the role of what is known as unconscious bias, which relates to biases and stereotypes we are unaware that we have about people and groups of people.

There is no universal solution for the phenomenon that what you look for you will find, but the most important step is to be aware of it and to be more conscious of what you are choosing to look for and experience. Rest assured that whatever you go looking for you will likely find, so be careful and conscious—and choose wisely! What are you looking for?

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