Creativity Pathway #161: Check Your Horn

I was in my car when I needed to get the attention of someone inside the house. “Well, I can’t honk,” I thought to myself, “the horn is broken.”

Only, it wasn’t. I had, in fact, had the electrical components of the horn fixed about a year ago but had forgotten about it. I had access to a tool that, out of of habit, I was telling myself I could not use.

I think this is what we do when we hold certain beliefs about ourselves as “truths.” Without questioning, we tell ourselves that we aren’t outgoing, that we are a comedian, or that we are lazy … the list goes on.

Often these thoughts are formed out of our early childhood experiences in which we were still experimenting with our developing skills. And, sometimes these personas are developed based on what others decide we are. We are too often labeled, sorted, and assigned at an early age.

While these labels sometimes give us a positive sense of self and belonging, we can also find these labels to be self-limiting. If we believe the labels without question, we live into them as a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we allow ourselves to assume our beliefs about ourselves are truths, we don’t allow the space for questioning and we let experiences that life may have given us new skills go unacknowledged.

Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D., teaches the skill of observation without evaluation. In his book, Nonviolent Communication, Dr. Rosenberg quotes an Indian philosopher who believed that the ability to observe, without adding our own evaluation, is the highest form of intelligence. Following are examples of labels, or evaluations that we place upon ourselves.

  1. I am aggressive.
  2. I am a procrastinator.
  3. I am a poor communicator.
  4. I am shy.

Though not all negative, these have a surface evaluative component that we tend to accept with out examination. If we instead rephrased these as observations, describing the behaviors that created the assumptions, we would learn more and have the freedom to change how we define ourselves. Here are the above evaluations rephrased as observations of behavior:

  1. I sometimes choose to say what I am thinking without editing my thoughts.
  2. Yesterday I played the piano instead of working out.
  3. Karen said I was unclear in explaining the problem to her.
  4. I felt uncomfortable describing my plan to the vice president.

When we break down our evaluations into specific behaviors we are better able to examine what happened and make corrections. We can question our habits and change our assumptions. So, check your horn; it may be working after all.

Coaching Inquiries: What “truths” are we holding onto about ourselves? About others? In what ways are these “truths” self-limiting? How could observations, without evaluations, free us to see the reality of our “truths?” How could we become a more creative and positive person? Who else could we bring along on the journey?

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May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
2010-2011 President, International Association of

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