As Easy As Riding a Bike? Maybe Not!

What have you been programmed to do in your life? What have you programmed yourself to do?

We’ve all had the experience of driving to a familiar destination and not remembering the ride.  What about the way you greet people, check your cell phone, make a presentation or show up in relationships?

The Grip of Programming

Destin Sandlin is an engineer and YouTube Educator who produces an educational video series called “Smarter Every Day.”  One day his welder friend, Barney, called to say he had built a Backwards Bicycle.  “When you turn the handle bars to the right, the bike goes to the left,” Barney told him, “ When you turn it to the left, the bike goes right. It’s impossible to ride.”

Destin was eager to prove his friend wrong, but he fell after just seconds on the bike.  He found that a programmed way of thinking and being can make it impossible to change the algorithms in the brain without practice. The way he steered, leaned and used the pressure in his feet were all programmed deeply into his brain.

How to Change Your Programming

How did Destin change?  He practiced for 5 minutes every day for 8 months. One day he couldn’t ride the bike and the next day he could.  He says that on the day he rode the bike, he actually felt a neural pathway opening in his brain.

Destin is often asked to speak at universities and conferences and he takes the bike with him.  He offers $200 to the audience member who can ride the bike on the spot without practice, and no one has been able to do it.  Not one person.

Why Practice Effective Communication?

Practice is the only way to deprogram the communication habits that don’t serve you.  You cannot free your brain from a cognitive bias without practice.

In addition, practice keeps us from duping ourselves into assuming knowledge is the same thing as understanding and doing.

My colleague Jeff Serenius does an exercise in his workshops to demonstrate this.  He shows people a graphic of the ampersand symbol and asks the group to tell him what it is and what it means.  Immediately everyone offers up the correct name and meaning of the symbol.  Jeff then puts the symbol away and asks everyone to draw it.  Suddenly people look uncomfortable as they put pen to paper.  Many of the drawings look like clef treble symbols and some like giant “E’s.” Only a few are drawn correctly according to the symbol shown at the beginning of the exercise.

Think about it.  You know an engaging communicator when you experience one. You know a meaningful presentation when you see one.  You know the traits and qualities that make them effective.  So what keeps you from being engaging and meaningful in your communication?

If you’re not practicing, you are not maturing your ideas or your understanding. You are caught in the grip of programming.

5 Ways to Practice Powerful Communication

  1. Take note of how alive you feel throughout the day.  What feels so programmed in your routine that you’re not really present or in touch with the experience?
  1. Embrace Studenthood.  Don’t depend on your boss or anyone else–take responsibility for your own self-development. Sign up for courses that challenge you to stretch your limits on listening, presenting, running meetings, negotiating and connecting in conversation.  Don’t be the crusty person who poo-poo’s so-called ‘soft skills’ while others around you go further in life.
  1. Practice imperfection.  Beware of the programmed self-deception and rigid thinking that protects you from taking responsibility. After going through personal breakups, losing business to competitors and watching employees quit, do you make excuses and blame other people? Consider owning your part or you will never grow to have authentic relationships.  People who are strong and vulnerable enough to recognize their own blind spots are very attractive.
  1. Set aside time to for your own interests.  Read an article that draws your attention for sheer enjoyment.  Listen to the kind of music you love. Take the day off.  Follow through on something you’ve been meaning to do for yourself and get out of the programmed box you’ve created.  Allow yourself to feel enlivened and you will become more interesting in conversation.
  1. Notice moments of choice, practice new behavior. Put your cell phone away in the meeting. Instead of dominating the conversation, ask people what they think. Make a live phone call to someone instead of sending an email. Before you make a sweeping generalization, ask yourself, “Is it really true?” Make a thoughtful, original observation instead. Listen to the person whose communication style irritates you and really hear what they’re saying.  Every day, practice doing something differently.

It’s entirely possible to cruise through life on “auto pilot” doing things the same way you first learned to do them–but eventually you will become irrelevant.

Great things just can’t happen while you’re cruising. Great things happen when you show up, fully present in the moment, open to new ways of doing things, and unafraid of being the beginner who has to practice riding the bike again.

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Avatar for Lou Solomon

Lou Solomon

Lou Solomon is the founder of Interact. She is a TEDx speaker and a member of the adjunct faculty at the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte. Her articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur.com, CEO.com, and Fast Company.