Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 1, Issue 27;   July 4, 2001: Corrales Mentales

Corrales Mentales

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Perhaps you've achieved every goal you've ever set yourself, but if you're like most of us, some important goals have remained elusive. Maybe you had bad luck, or you weren't in the right place at the right time. But it's just possible that you got in your own way. Getting out of your own way can help make things happen.
Horses in a corral

A classic wood corral. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Transportation.

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? Go to top Top  Next issue: The Fallacy of the False Cause  Next Issue

Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunLove the work but not the job? Bad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? This ebook looks at what we can do to get more out of life at work. It helps you get moving again! Read Go For It! Sometimes It's Easier If You Run, filled with tips and techniques for putting zing into your work life. Order Now!

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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Most of what we know about person-to-person communication applies when levels of stress are low. But when stress is high, as it is in emergencies, we're more likely to make mistakes. Knowing those mistakes in advance can be helpful in avoiding them.
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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Tuckman's stages of group developmentComing December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
An actual straw manAnd on December 14: Straw Man Variants
The straw man fallacy is a famous rhetorical fallacy. Using it distorts debate and can lead groups to reach faulty conclusions. It's ad readily recognized, but it has some variants that are more difficult to spot. When unnoticed, trouble looms. Available here and by RSS on December 14.

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