Subconscious Ahead, Proceed with Caution

The older I get, the more I like predictability in my vacations, and fewer things are as predictable as sunny weather in Scottsdale, Arizona, especially in March, especially to a Nebraskan. For that reason, and many more, like I have for several consecutive winters, I recently spent some time in the Valley of the Sun.

Not only do I travel to some cities consistently, I tend to dine at the same restaurants during my visits. In Scottsdale, staff in some of my regular haunts even recognize me. That's why I was thrown off when I prepared to meet a former student at one of my favorite sports bars and discovered it was closed. On a recommendation, I decided to visit another watering hole in the area. The directions I was given included a series of right and left turns, and an admonition that "you can't miss it."

Well, I missed it. I spent nearly 20 minutes driving around a shopping area on the other side of the street, because I was sure that I knew where it was. In my mind, that's where a sports bar like the one I was looking for would be, and I suspect that I tuned out the directions almost immediately as they began. Though I had never been there and had no idea what was over there, the possibility that my desired destination was on the other side of the street never occurred to me.

When I heard "sports bar at the corner of Scottsdale Road and Bell Road," my mind automatically took me to the southeast quadrant of that intersection, because that's where all my related experience had been. Subconsciously, I sought familiar territory, at the expense of other possibilities.

Our subconscious is often extremely effective in situations like this; and it allows our progress to benefit from our experiences - we don't have to start with absolutely no context. It's why we feel more comfortable surrounded by friends at a social gathering than we do in a gathering where we know few people. Familiarity allows us to make assumptions, which accelerate our thought processes.

On the flip side, those assumptions can mislead us, as they did in my Scottsdale experience. As I searched for the sports bar, my subconscious overruled my conscious, logical thinking. While my rational mind focused on the admonition, "you can't miss it," my subconscious said that my destination had to be in the southeast corner, even though it wasn't as apparent as the directions I was given led me to believe.

How often does that happen in the business world? Maybe you call on a prospect, excited about all the potential in the account, based on your experience in the industry and with similar prospects. Maybe that prospect reveals itself as a far lesser prospect than you had anticipated, but you are slow to disengage because your subconscious overrules rational thinking. Maybe a project in which you are involved appears to be unraveling, but is instead leading you down a more productive path. If you can't separate from your negative-leaning subconscious, you might never see that path.

Back in Scottsdale, I finally gave in to rational thinking - and my wife's pleas - and drove over to the southwestern corner of the intersection where I saw that the sports bar was indeed in a "can't miss it" location. I had no other choice, as I had finally convinced myself that I wasn't going to find it in the southeast corner.

Don't make my mistake. Examine your current challenges to see if you have unwittingly allowed your subconscious to mislead you. Challenge yourself to let go of the subconscious assumptions that stand between you and your goals. Don't spend time driving around in circles ignoring logic and your wife.

-- Mitch Arnold