Whether you grow or stagnate as you get older depends on how and when you rethink settled issues. An issue is settled when you evaluate it in the full context of your knowledge and conclude it is true or false. Some conclusions get settled for life. Philosophical issues such as the value of honesty or the importance of setting goals are deep truths that all of your experience reinforces and validates. Other conclusions need to be reconsidered from time to time. I find this is especially true for advice from experts that I had decided didn’t apply to me.
For example, years ago, I listened to a course on marketing that recommended making a detailed marketing plan for the upcoming 6-12 months. The idea was to put all the promotional work on the calendar, starting with your planned events and product releases, and then backtracking to determine what you needed to get done when.
I tried it. It was a total disaster. The plan fell apart very quickly. The primary effect was to make me feel incompetent for not being able to stick to the plan. The secondary effect was to put me in hot water because I started projects (according to the plan) that then gave me commitments that I couldn’t easily fulfill (because the plan was unrealistic).
The truth was, I didn’t know enough to make such a plan. The whole undertaking of building a business was just so new, so unfamiliar, and so challenging that I could not figure out what I needed to do that far in advance.
That issue was “settled” for some years. I did not make marketing plans because they were a waste of my time. Then I had a feedback session with the same marketer. As she started quizzing me about my situation, I realized she was walking me through a long-term marketing plan — just like the one that had worked so poorly before!
Not surprisingly, I felt resistance to taking those steps. I felt I had settled this issue for myself long ago: these kinds of plans didn’t work for me. My emotions flowed from that old conclusion.
But emotions are alerts to values that are at stake now and emotional conflict is always a lead to a mistaken assumption or a contradiction. So instead of hanging up on the call, I listened to my own resistance and used it to draw out the issues. After all, I was paying this marketer for her advice.
I quickly realized that the emotions were based on old information. The #1 objection that my subconscious threw up was, “You can’t guarantee you’ll get the marketing copy done on that schedule.” That had been true when I was just starting out. But it wasn’t true anymore. After years of practice, I could put a writing assignment on the schedule for the week and have confidence I would get it done. That, combined with other skills and processes I had developed, put me in a position where I could make realistic long-term marketing plans.
For years I had not been ready to follow the advice to engage in detailed, long-term marketing planning — this advice hadn’t been good advice for me. It wasn’t practical given my lack of skills. But now that I have the skills, it is great advice.
It could have gone a different way. Just last fall I concluded that I knew better what I needed than a speaking coach I had hired. But that just meant that he was not the coach I need to take it to my next level, not that his advice would never be relevant. He just wasn’t a good fit for me at that time.
How do you figure out that you need to put in some time reconsidering a settled issue? Any time you have emotional conflict about it. The emotional conflict is an alert that new information is available that may be relevant. Emotions are alerts. They are your signals that you may need to take action to avoid a threat and you may have an opportunity to gain value. You need to introspect them to find out what exactly is going on.
Often what you discover is that you have changed since you last thought about this topic. You have learned something. You have gained a skill. You have shifted your priorities. Or if the issue concerns your business, you have hired staff or the market has changed or the customer has given feedback.
The bottom line here is this: when you keep introspecting the emotions around some old issue, you find out when you’re ready for a change. Many people (including probably me before I learned to introspect) would have stopped listening when they heard that old advice. Their emotions would tell them, “I tried that and it’s no good.”
But the world changes — and your emotions don’t keep up unless you examine them. They’re based on the past. If you pay attention to them and understand them, you can see that and not be stopped by an old conclusion that no longer applies. You can adapt and grow in the here and now.