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Q/ How do you eat an elephant?

A/ One bite at a time of course...

I love this ridiculous joke (not just because it entertains my nephews) but because underneath it lies the simplest of truths; sometimes if we only focus on the mountain ahead of us, it can seem so daunting that we never even take the first step. Whereas if we just break it down into smaller, more manageable parts, it seems so much easier.

For me this is none more so evident than when I do exercise. It doesn't matter if it's a run, a swim, a game of football with friends, or a Legs, Bums and Tums class at my gym, the hardest part is always crossing the doorstep. Once I do that it's really not as daunting as I thought and maybe even enjoyable (not always though!).

Now, this blog isn't about my exercise regime nor the merits of perseverance. It's not even an article debating the pros and cons between detail and big picture; it's actually about the power of a positive mindset and how much you can gain from challenging your own assumptions.

In all my years in the business world, I've seen lots of ideas, strategies, negotiations, projects, and even relationships fail largely because the parties entering into them didn't truly believe that they would work. They would find reasons and justifications why things might not work and this would go on to become a self-fulfilling prophecy (e.g. "Oh, I'll never get the pay rise as I haven't been here long enough" or "The team will never be able to adopt that new software as they have too many systems to use already"; it also applies outside the business world "I could never go and talk to that person in the bar as they are way too good looking" ).

Where have these assumptions come from? How do you know they are true? Why would you not at least test them?

This isn't to say that adopting a positive mindset alone will ensure that you'll get success; more so that without the positive mindset and the challenge to the assumptions you'll never really get a chance to try for success.

Often we tell ourselves that this isn't the case, that we are rational people with sound reasons for our negative thoughts (look out for a future blog about "the 27 ways people can say no to a new idea") and it can be hard to see the limitations we put on ourselves, but these assumptions are no different to any other problem. You can brainstorm them, identify what they are and the impact they have and come up with ways to test them or alternative assumptions to use in their place.

This can be hard to do on your own and using techniques like a pre-mortem can help; other times just having a second viewpoint can be all it needs to unlock progress, ultimately challenge early on is the key to overcoming them.

We at Shiageto Consulting would love to help your business challenge its own assumptions but, until such a point that we can do that directly with you, let us leave you with three top mantras to challenge assumptions and keep a positive mindset:

1) Don't get sucked into the headlights - one of the first pieces of advice my driving instructor ever gave me was this. He saw that, as a nervous new driver out for the first time at night, I was tending to drift too much into oncoming traffic. When he asked me why, I answered that it was all the headlights, they were distracting. He pointed out that the headlights were necessary for safety reasons but that the very fact I stared at them so intently when I was driving actually made them dangerous - quite simply, he told me "When you first become aware of something new like headlights, you tend to over-focus on them and they can suck you in which can be dangerous; fight the urge and you'll soon get used to them".

Have you ever identified what are the headlights that are sucking in your attention dangerously?

2) Be less Western - before you get offended, this has nothing to do with cowboys, it's more another way of saying "if you don't ask, you don't get". One of my uncles used to say this a lot to us when we were kids. He was always amused when he travelled to certain countries, how politely people queued for things and how they never haggled in shops. He would say "This is because this is how people in these countries believe it always is and they don't challenge these stupid notions".

Instead, he would say "It's time to be less Western" and would drag us to the front of all queues and make us haggle in every shop. Sometimes we would get to jump the queue or end up paying less than expected and other times we would not, but you were always certain that we would try. He may have had outdated, stereotypical views but he was right in getting us to challenge things.

3) Be "Yes, And" never "Yes, But" - this was told to me once by an friend who is an actor as the secret of improvisational comedy. When comedians are making up scenes, the worse thing one of them can say is "Yes, But". The "But" immediately closes down most opportunities making the next line so much harder, whereas a "Yes, And" provides a platform for the next person to build upon*.

Are you aware of all the times you throw out a "But"? In life (and in business) always be a "Yes, And" person if you can.

Shiageto Consulting is an innovative consulting firm that specialises in sharpening the IQ, EQ and FQ elements of business and individuals to unlock greater levels of performance. To find out more visit or contact Faris directly

*Take for example the simple comedy set up of: "An elephant walks into a room..." if the next word is "but" the punchline is so much harder than if the next word is "and".

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