At the ranger station midway on a hike through Boston's Blue Hills, I stop to relax and take some water. Two large horses belonging to the Metro Boston mounted police stand in the shady corner of a small corral. I notice that the fence that contains them is so flimsy that they could smash through it easily if they wanted to. I'm not a horse mind reader, and it could be that they know how weak the fence is, but in my imagination, they don't realize that they can break out. That thought reminds me of my own mental corrals, and how many of us have them.
Mental corrals prevent us from doing what we're otherwise able to do. When we don't ask for a promotion because we think we won't get it, we're in a mental corral. Mental corrals keep us from exercising choices we have, and they can even keep us from seeing them. They prevent us from reaching our potential.
A few kinds of mental corrals:
- OK Corral
- When things are OK, we sometimes can't see how much better things could be. We tolerate what we need not. The OK Corral kept IBM from introducing the PC until after Apple showed it could be done, and the delay may have cost IBM dominance of the desktop.
- Terror Corral
- When terror grips us, we believe that the only sensible choice is to stay inside the corral. Either we imagine the threat, or someone else induces it. The Terror Corral kept European sailors from crossing the Atlantic, even when the Polynesians were crossing the Pacific — with inferior technology, and centuries earlier.
- Example Corral
- When something bad happens to someone else, we sometimes fear that it will happen to us if we try something similar — even after the situation changes. Bullies can control a social group much more powerful than they are by making examples of a few of its members.
- Rationalization Corral
- Mental corrals prevent us
from doing what we're
otherwise able to do
- When we don't want to take risks, we invent reasons for staying put. "It costs too much," "It'll never work," "If it were that easy, someone would have done it already." The Rationalization Corral often acts as a "second fence." It prevents us from seeing the outer corral — the more powerful reason we choose not to act.
Can you remember a time when there was a mental corral that you had to break through to achieve a goal? Make a collection of the corrals you've escaped. Is there a pattern? What would happen if, instead of breaking out of your mental corrals, you just stopped building them? Top Next Issue
As a costs savings measure, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decided in 2004 to close these stables. Park rangers in Boston's Blue Hills Reservations began patrolling on foot. The stable's residents — King Arthur, King Pellinore, Sir Dillidon, Turk, Merlin, and Lady Guinevere — have been reassigned to other duty around Massachusetts. Seems like the Commonwealth is in a Mental Corral of its own.
For more on achieving and inspiring goals, see "Commitment Makes It Easier," Point Lookout for October 16, 2002; "Beyond WIIFM," Point Lookout for August 13, 2003; "Your Wishing Wand," Point Lookout for October 8, 2003; "Give It Your All," Point Lookout for May 19, 2004; "Knowing Where You're Going," Point Lookout for April 20, 2005; "Workplace Myths: Motivating People," Point Lookout for July 19, 2006; "Astonishing Successes," Point Lookout for January 31, 2007; and "Achieving Goals: Inspiring Passion and Action," Point Lookout for February 14, 2007.
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Achieving Goals: Inspiring Passion and Action
- Achieving your goals requires both passion and action. Knowing when to emphasize passion and when to
emphasize action are the keys to managing yourself, or others, toward achievement.
- The Paradox of Confidence
- Most of us interpret a confident manner as evidence of competence, and a hesitant manner as evidence
of lesser ability. Recent research suggests that confidence and competence are inversely correlated.
If so, our assessments of credibility and competence are thrown into question.
- Constancy Assumptions
- We necessarily make assumptions about our lives, including our work, because assumptions simplify things.
And usually, our assumptions are valid. But not always.
- Irrational Deadlines
- Some deadlines are so unrealistic that from the outset we know we'll never meet them. Yet we keep setting
(and accepting) irrational deadlines. Why does this happen?
- Understanding Delegation
- It's widely believed that managers delegate some of their own authority and responsibility to their
subordinates, who then use that authority and responsibility to get their work done. That view is unfortunate.
It breeds micromanagers.
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 18: High Falutin' Goofy Talk: III
- Workplace speech and writing sometimes strays into the land of pretentious but overused business phrases, which I like to call high falutin' goofy talk. We use these phrases with perhaps less thought than they deserve, because they can be trite or can evoke indecorous images. Here's Part III of a collection of phrases and images to avoid. Available here and by RSS on July 18.
- And on July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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