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Prevent the “Why did I just do that?!” feeling


How many times have you experienced what is called ‘esprit d’escalier’, a French term which literally means ‘stairway thinking’? You are just on your way out of a meeting, or have just pressed ‘send’ on that email, or have just hung up the phone. You have a sense of vague dissatisfaction (or perhaps clear disappointment with how things have gone) and suddenly you realise just what you could have said or written which would have swung the outcome into a much more positive realm.

Why does this happen? Most usually, it is because you get caught up in the experience, and don’t take a moment to think about what is happening. Perhaps emotions are high. Perhaps it is the stakes that are high. Maybe there is history between you and the other people in the experience. Maybe you are on ‘auto-pilot’. Or maybe it is simply that you are thinking about the wrong things.

Whatever the reason, in that experience you had a less than optimal result and you would like it to be different next time. Rigorous reflective thinking can help you make that happen.

A plan for improved results – start early and keep it up

Preparing to notice is an important part of an effective strategy.

Be prepared for important experiences. Begin to create a habit of telling yourself that at some point you may want to stop an experience you are having and notice what is going on. This wanting to stop and notice is likely to be when things don’t seem to be going how you expected, or how you would like.

We can learn to change our mental, emotional and physical state at given times to help us achieve better results. It takes practice.

In order to notice what is happening, and be in the best condition to come up with good thinking, we need to be in a state that allows that to happen.

A state is a concept borrowed from neuro-linguistic programming and refers to a kind of energetic ‘condition’, our mental and physical processes as they exist at any particular point in time. It is kind of like the sort of mood you are in, how you’re feeling, what is going on for you inside and out.

What do you think would be the best state to be in to help you notice as much as possible about an experience you are having?

New skills need to be learned and practiced before we can really call them our own. It is possible to build new habits.

Exercise that habit. Periodically stop and notice what is going on around you. This interrupts the flow of what is already happening, and makes it possible for you to pay attention to the details of what is going on. If something is not how you expected, or how you would like, you need to get clear about what is actually happening. Take a moment to notice.

Having some key, pre-prepared questions in your toolkit will help enormously.

Be prepared with a couple of key focus questions that will help you get to the heart of what is going on and what you need to do to get the best result. My favourites are:

  • What is it the other person/people actually want(s) from me right now?
  • What impact do I want to have with my next action?

The bridge to action is essential. Make sure you are ready to generate and consider a couple of options for action.

Quickly – and time is of the essence here – generate options for immediate action. Think back to your two focus questions, and the answers you came up with, and consider what you can do right now that will move you closer to the desired outcome. Notice that I said ‘what you can do’. You haven’t yet chosen your action, merely identified a couple of possibilities. 

Evaluate your options against the key focus questions you asked yourself earlier: what do they want from you and what impact do you want to have?

Now – again quickly – evaluate your options and choose the one to execute. Choose an action and try it out. Consider it an experiment. It will produce a new experience.

Now you need to take note of how the situation has changed as a result of the option you have executed. You are back to noticing.

We can call this ‘iterate’. The action you have chosen to execute has produced a new experience. Notice the new experience you are having. Deliberate on that for a moment. Are you back in rapport, back on track? Or does another adjustment need to be made? If so, generate a new set of options for additional action. And try a new experiment. 

The structure outlined above is based on a five-part model of focused thinking called EDGE-it. To read more about it, check out Better Thinking for Better Results, published in July 2015 by Panoma Press. Using EDGE-it can help you prevent that “Why did I just do that again?!” feeling.

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