We all flirt with denial from time to time. When those we love are diagnosed with a terminal illness, a lot of the time our first reaction is, “No!” Deaths of loved ones brings the same response, as if we are trying to turn back time, if only for a few moments. There is a disconnect between what we’ve told ourselves is true, and this new reality. If you have ever tried to overcome an addiction, you know that getting past denial is one of the first steps to change.
Now, denial has its roots in a perfectly normal need – we want to feel that we are OK just the way we are. But denial takes it one step further. Instead of looking at current reality, accepting it as a fact, and then thinking calmly about how to change it, people who are in denial distort current reality so they won’t have to think about changing it. This is usually for two reasons.
First, they don’t really feel strong and capable enough to change. And second, they short-circuit their thought processes by getting stuck in self-blame and condemnation. Denial helps them avoid these unpleasant feelings. When you have people like this in positions of power, authority and decision-making, this avoidance by denial can ruin an organization. Opportunities to course-correct are willfully missed, and righting the path becomes a very real and difficult challenge.
However, there is a better way. You see, self-blame and negative self-talk are learned behaviors, and what is learned can be unlearned. If you work on changing your self-concept to a positive one, denial becomes unnecessary and behavior can be changed without the psychological pain. We aren’t denying denial, it simply becomes useless to us.
When you look at an unpleasant reality, say to yourself, “That’s not like me. Not anymore. In the future, I intend to…” and then complete the word picture with a thoroughly engaging, positive image that you reinforce daily with visualization and affirmation.
If inner change happens first, outer change will follow, automatically. It has to; that’s how we are built. The internal picture has changed and if it’s strong enough, we have no choice but to act like that picture. The good news is you drive that new picture, that desired change.