Author Michael Margolis on March 15, 2010

You Can’t Change Anything You Hate

Change is the new business as usual.

It seems everywhere I turn I see a world in flux, in change, under seismic shift. Its easy to feel like you don’t know what’s the real ground you stand on. Because the old ways of doing, the old ways of navigating, and the old ways of communicating – are past their expiration date.

Like me, I bet you’re really curious about the process of change. I hope you’ve read Dan and Chip Heath’s latest book Switch. If not, add it to the top of your list. If you liked their last book Made to Stick, you’ll really appreciate Switch. Same pop psychology approach – to understanding change.

They introduce a wonderful metaphor that they carry throughout the book: the rider, the elephant, and the path. The rider is our conscious mind – it tries to direct the show. The elephant is our unconscious and emotional landscape which really runs the show. The path is just that, and you need to have a sense of which direction to steer the elephant. The book is a bit emotionally distanced at times (how ironic!), yet the practical insights and examples are worth their weight in gold. It’s a quick read, and definitely worth the purchase.

Switch offers great context for one of my own personal axioms: “you can’t change anything you hate.” Think about that. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, deal with someone’s behavior, or change the way your company does business, negative emotion is the deal-breaker. Considering I’ve put back on those extra twenty pounds in the last few months, I’m still working on this one. We’ve become a culture of self-righteous indignation – whether that’s yelling at your spouse for not washing the dishes or yelling at some part of society that needs to act in a different way. When are we going to realize that “s/he who yells loudest doesn’t win?”

When you communicate or frame your change story from a place of anger, fear, or judgment – you’re triggering the reptilian part of the brain in the mind of your audience. We’ve all heard of “fight or flight”, its a basic survival mechanism. By challenging your audience and pointing out their flaws, they will respond in one of two ways – (1) fight: who the hell are you to tell me!?…, or (2) flight: you stick your head in the sand and look the other way. Either way, the very thing you’re trying to change has been activated and triggered to preserve its survival. If you turn to judgment, you’ll have a much harder time getting the change to stick.

In my storytelling manifesto Believe Me I explore this idea further:

In any given situation, a dominant story already exists. Who controls this story? It might be your biggest competitor, a recognized adversary, or the established social norm. You need to crack the existing code before you can socialize your own story into reality.

The trick is not to confront or challenge the status quo head-on. Rarely does anything productive emerge from gruesome hand-to-hand combat. And yet so many people trying to effect change or innovation prepare themselves for battle.

The moment you question and challenge someone else’s beliefs, the debate is over—before it’s even started. You must instead nurture and seduce your new story’s acceptance. Do not judge or negate the established storylines. They have played an important role serving the social order. Perhaps, the old story has outgrown its utility or relevance, which is why your new story can find fertile ground. Just look for the cracks where new flowers can sprout and blossom.

Whatever constraints you perceive in the existing market are usually connected to the old story. Look for the bigger story—the more universal human story that cuts across old boundaries, limits, and categories. Break free from mental slavery and you’ve completely redefined the problem. With this shift in perspective, the solution is often much easier to achieve.

>> [Download free copy of my storytelling manifesto.]

Instead of engaging the reptilian brain, connect at the limbic level, the sphere of emotion. Psychologists say there are two basic emotions; fear and love. When your story engages people from a place of love and acceptance, a new kind of relationship is possible.

Here’s a new term for you – “emotional overhead”. Got it from my new friend Jerry Michalski. What a great word, Jerry! If you’re feeling exhausted, my guess is its probably more emotional than physical. Whenever we go through change, and part of us is resisting the process (we’re scared, uncomfortable, feeling judged, etc…), it creates piles of stress. I usually feel it as big giant pillars of concrete on my shoulders. All that stress is expressed as emotional overhead. It drags us down, it makes us tired, it limits our sense of possibility.

You can’t be in the flow, when you’re overwhelmed with emotional overhead. Lets be honest, we don’t do such a good job of acknowledging, much less releasing all that emotional overhead. And all that weight is quite demanding. It often shows up as the urge to eat that whole pint of ice cream, order that extra cocktail, play with one’s crackberry, spend six hours at the gym…

Emotions are simply calling for our attention. The more we ignore them, the louder they’ll start yelling, kicking, and screaming. How much are emotions in charge of your life?

Consider your sources of stress? Its usually either you worrying about the past or fretting about the future. If you are truly present, in the moment; and I mean really present, most stress melts away. If you can change your relationship with the past and the future, you can accomplish anything. That’s something for all of us to practice. I know I can be so busy doing all the time, that I forget the being part of the equation. Its in the process of being, that the obsessive chains of attachment start to loosen. Now just consider, the story implications!

I struggled through much of life being overwhelmed by my emotional sensitivities, and not knowing how to process them. About 18 months ago, I discovered a technique called the Sedona Method. Well, to be honest, my good friend Bob Devlin, gifted me the book 4 years before but it sat patiently on my shelf until 18 months ago. At the time, my marriage was on the rocks, and I was on the edge of an emotional breakdown. So I started reading the book, although it didn’t click until I attended a workshop led by David Ellzey in NYC, a master trainer of the Sedona method. The basic process taught me how to shift and let go of any emotion in 30 seconds, which was a rather liberating breakthrough. I am no longer a victim of my emotional state.  Those 2-days with David Ellzey opened the door to a new way of life for me. (FYI: the main Sedona Method website is unfortunately a bit gimmicky in an old paradigm way…which is a shame, but David Ellzey is the pure, genuine, real deal).

Why am I sharing all this with you? Because I see too many people struggling with the emotional dimensions of change, much less the emotional dimensions of life. Learning how to re-story your situation or your organization is a fundamental process in releasing emotional overhead. All that emotion is what weights us down. If you can create more space and lower all those drag co-efficients, you’ll be ready to step if not leap into your new story.


home_michaelprofile_129x129px-2xAuthor Michael Margolis
Michael is the CEO at Get Storied. You can find him on Twitter @GetStoried where he engages daily with a quarter-million fans. Also, enjoy his free training storytelling at www.getstoried.com/redpill


  • Lav

    I loved reading this post as it reminds me of that saying “You can't get from point A to point B if you don't acknowledge that you are at point A”. A lot of us try to change by denying who we are right now, instead of accepting it and move on from that point and that's why it's so challenging for so many people to shift things in their lives, whether it's their body image or their company.

    As for emotions, so many times they get in the way of our vision, our goal, of the things that we dearly want to do but at times “don't feel like it”. I believe being in action and motivating ourselves to be in continuous action is the thing that pushes us forward beyond our emotions, beyond our denials and our fears. The Sedona Method is a really great book, but as with many great books, they become useless if we just read them, but take no action in regards to what we read in there.

    Great, great insight and great sharing. I love how you manage to create a great analysis of things and at the same time make it personal ;).

  • Thanks Lav! Glad my blend of big ideas reflection and personal sharing connects with you.

    Too often change is seeing as a rejection or repudiation of the past, which only creates more resistance to the future. Its certainly a fine balance.

    As they say, you have to know where you come from, to know where you're going.

  • Lav

    I loved reading this post as it reminds me of that saying “You can't get from point A to point B if you don't acknowledge that you are at point A”. A lot of us try to change by denying who we are right now, instead of accepting it and move on from that point and that's why it's so challenging for so many people to shift things in their lives, whether it's their body image or their company.

    As for emotions, so many times they get in the way of our vision, our goal, of the things that we dearly want to do but at times “don't feel like it”. I believe being in action and motivating ourselves to be in continuous action is the thing that pushes us forward beyond our emotions, beyond our denials and our fears. The Sedona Method is a really great book, but as with many great books, they become useless if we just read them, but take no action in regards to what we read in there.

    Great, great insight and great sharing. I love how you manage to create a great analysis of things and at the same time make it personal ;).

  • Thanks Lav! Glad my blend of big ideas reflection and personal sharing connects with you.

    Too often change is seeing as a rejection or repudiation of the past, which only creates more resistance to the future. Its certainly a fine balance.

    As they say, you have to know where you come from, to know where you're going.

  • Great post , Mike, and very timely for me since I'm in the midst of a workshop/program and documentary breaking down Joseph Campbell's Hero Cycle into digestible bits for inner-city middle schoolers. They key bits I see, overcoming fear of the unknown, being willing to fail in search of something better, not being too proud to wonder and ask questions or ask for help are just plain universal in their utility – and also deeply suspected as “weaknesses” by that reptile brain, no matter what neighborhood you come from. I use Hope and Fear but Love works great too. Thanks for the post!

  • Great post, Michael! I share a similar philosophy with my clients: you can't facilitate change in people you don't like or respect. First, find a way to meet them in an authentic place. To that end, I especially what you wrote here: “When your story engages people from a place of love and acceptance, a new kind of relationship is possible.”

    This rings true on all levels of relationship – relationship to others, to self, to other frameworks/belief systems, and even to the creative process. I think the best stories not only invoke the listener in the other, but their own “inner storyteller.” Telling a story form a place of love, honoring, truth and respect (rather than fear, manipulation or disregard) creates the space for the listener to engage from their inner knowing, rather than to just have a reactive experience. Love-based storytelling becomes generative and emergent and co-creative, instead of binary, “agree/disagree” or persuasive.

    Thanks for the post! 🙂

  • That's awesome Mark. Are you highlighting the second half of the hero's journey? The long walk home? I talk about this in my storytelling manifesto, as the overlooked part of the story – after you've had illumination and want others to see, believe, and care in the same things you do. Its the chasm that all innovators and change-makers must cross.

  • So well put Michelle. Everybody just wants to be truly seen and recognized. The perspective you describe completely reframes the accepted notions of persuasion, influence, and the associated manipulation. If you can tell a story that you audience self-identifies are their own; when your story is their story (and therefore our story) – then you create a new bond of relationship where there is nothing to sell.

  • Yes, in a way, Mike. I've condensed a bit (young attention spans 😉 and characterized the wrap of “The Return” phase as “Home is the same, you are new.” As I get some distance between writing it and seeing it implemented, the program really has utility as a means to help many see and jump the chasm between known and unknown which is really all the Journey is, right? – mustering the will and inner love to transcend fears and realize your true self. Like I said, look forward to chatting on this because it seems relevant to what both you and Michelle are parsing daily also.

  • Great post, Michael! I share a similar philosophy with my clients: you can't facilitate change in people you don't like or respect. First, find a way to meet them in an authentic place. To that end, I especially what you wrote here: “When your story engages people from a place of love and acceptance, a new kind of relationship is possible.”

    This rings true on all levels of relationship – relationship to others, to self, to other frameworks/belief systems, and even to the creative process. I think the best stories not only invoke the listener in the other, but their own “inner storyteller.” Telling a story form a place of love, honoring, truth and respect (rather than fear, manipulation or disregard) creates the space for the listener to engage from their inner knowing, rather than to just have a reactive experience. Love-based storytelling becomes generative and emergent and co-creative, instead of binary, “agree/disagree” or persuasive.

    Thanks for the post! 🙂

  • That's awesome Mark. Are you highlighting the second half of the hero's journey? The long walk home? I talk about this in my storytelling manifesto, as the overlooked part of the story – after you've had illumination and want others to see, believe, and care in the same things you do. Its the chasm that all innovators and change-makers must cross.

  • So well put Michelle. Everybody just wants to be truly seen and recognized. The perspective you describe completely reframes the accepted notions of persuasion, influence, and the associated manipulation. If you can tell a story that you audience self-identifies are their own; when your story is their story (and therefore our story) – then you create a new bond of relationship where there is nothing to sell.

  • Yes, in a way, Mike. I've condensed a bit (young attention spans 😉 and characterized the wrap of “The Return” phase as “Home is the same, you are new.” As I get some distance between writing it and seeing it implemented, the program really has utility as a means to help many see and jump the chasm between known and unknown which is really all the Journey is, right? – mustering the will and inner love to transcend fears and realize your true self. Like I said, look forward to chatting on this because it seems relevant to what both you and Michelle are parsing daily also.

  • Michelle, I agree with Mike, this is so “on.” As the world swings deeper into abstractions of truth (see Wall Street or Tea Parties) and settling for temporal distractions, we seem to be getting further and further away from the other, more deeply satisfying aspects of our imaginative selves – the testing and living in the moment, finding the courage and avenues to see what we're made of. I'd suggest that shows like Idol or Lost or all the reality fare like Real World or Survivor are examples of how we still crave these tests and proofs but we're stuck only as spectators, maybe even conditioned to be so.

  • Lav

    I love the reply, Michelle and the reply to your reply from Michael 😉 and there is one thing I would like to add to that. A lot of people don't have a clear understanding of what it means to come from a place of love and what love means for that matter. A deal with this quite often in the work I do as so many people believe love to be equal to romance and they don't really know how to go beyond that.

    And then again love and support may look so different from one day to the other: sometimes it's listening, other times is talking, sometimes is being compassionate and other times it's pushing the limits and maybe looking harsh, when need be.

    Thank you Michael for opening the space for this conversation and thank you Mark and Michelle for your beautiful insights.

  • Rock on Mark! Remember that young people know all about being the outsider and feeling misunderstood which is what the return is all about. Thanks for sharing your passionate reflections throughout.

  • Michael,
    Thanks for sharing this. I really needed to hear about this today. It really hits home.

  • Good post, Michael. To flight and fight, I would add 'paralysis.' This is what I see a lot, and it is often the first reaction to the perceived change (perceived, because, of course, change is always happening). There is always an instant of recognition before the flight or fight kicks in, and I believe this is the window of opportunity. In my work, we begin by putting people in a situation that scares them (typical: get up in front of an audience and say something). And then I come down hard on hesitation. Hesitation as a reaction to fear is the thing we work on, and we do it by giving people the tools to prod the elephant in a productive direction in that instant, because that is when the elephant can be turned most easily. In Chicago last week, I witnessed a robbery in progress. I was cutting through an alley with a friend, and a station wagon zipped past us and skidded to a halt behind a pick-up where two men were loading stuff they were stealing from her garage. A woman jumped out of the station wagon and began grabbing her stuff from the pickup. For a second, we didn't realize what was going on. Domestic dispute? She turned to my friend and me and said, “They're robbing me!” That was their cue to skedaddle. We got their license plate # and were on the phone with the police before they were out of the alley. When I told this story later, the most common reaction was that the woman was an idiot for confronting the burglars. What if they'd pulled a gun or a knife? I think the point is that she didn't fight, and she didn't flee. AND most importantly, she didn't hesitate. If she had hesitated, it might have turned out different. But she didn't. And all was not lost.

    Thanks for the post!

  • Wow, Mike – I didn't realize you play a superhero in addition to your day job. You fail to mention how your presence had an effect on the situation too. What a trip to Chicago!

    In a way, I think you're speaking to the notion of confidence, and that in any situation, hesitation is what often makes things unravel, often in a really bad way.

    In the process of change, many people find themselves departed from the comfort of the status quo. There's no turning back, and yet they're still far from the promised land. There's a lesson from the WWII mini-series Band of Brothers about being in caught in “no-man's land.”

    “Keep moving. You're a sitting duck. You can't stand still. Keep moving.”

    To your point, we all have to move beyond paralysis, even when we're far from safety, with no direction home.

  • Wow, Mike – I didn't realize you play a superhero in addition to your day job. You fail to mention how your presence had an effect on the situation too. What a trip to Chicago!

    In a way, I think you're speaking to the notion of confidence, and that in any situation, hesitation is what often makes things unravel, often in a really bad way.

    In the process of change, many people find themselves departed from the comfort of the status quo. There's no turning back, and yet they're still far from the promised land. There's a lesson from the WWII mini-series Band of Brothers about being in caught in “no-man's land.”

    “Keep moving. You're a sitting duck. You can't stand still. Keep moving.”

    To your point, we all have to move beyond paralysis, even when we're far from safety, with no direction home.

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  • Right on and here is a story to illustrate your point. A number of years ago I was leading a support group for women with body image issues. Not coincidentally all of them had been been victims of childhood sexual abuse. One day, Peg (not her real name) reported that she had come to the realization that gaining weight, being fat, was protection against her abuser. She literally thanked herself and her body for protecting her all those years ago. Soon thereafter she confronted a young man who was making lude comments about her breast size. having done both of these things, the excess weight began to fall off her body.

    BTW Michael – I so agree with the importance of story telling as a critical leadership competence and use Abraham Lincoln as the role model.

    Nice Work!

  • that's a really great and touching example Anne. So often we forget that the old story must be respected and acknowledged for the role it has played in our life. All stories hold a purpose. Its in honoring and recognizing that role that we can create the space for a new story to emerge.

  • Great axiom about not being able to change what you hate. Also love the idea of asking who is controlling your story. Very clear discernment tool.

    I see activating the reptilian brain (I call it brainlet) not as something to avoid, but something to approach with care and respect. We don't want to trigger a reptilian regression, but we do want to tap into the power of our survival instincts in alignment with the mammalian brainlet emotional centers and our neo-cortical discernment. They were designed to serve us in harmony, and when they do, our stories are more powerful than we could imagine. I call it “triunicating.” http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#!/alb

    Loved your comments on Denning's blog. I hope you visit speakstrong and join our conversation too.

  • Love the post, Michael, and I'm downloading your manifesto now. You and I have covered much of the same territory in storytelling. “What Happy People Know” is a book you'll enjoy if you haven't read it already. It's all about the reptilian brain. Here's a review I wrote:
    The Globe Is Heating Up While The Economy Has Cooled Down. So Why Not Smile And Be Happy?

    And, if you haven't met Dr. Sam Ham and his work with thematic communication and storytelling, you should. Here is the first in a three part series I wrote about his work. Interesting cat! http://bit.ly/4vrESt

  • Meryl – I just love what you're up to on your blog. We're definitely swimming in the same stream of articulating new language and vocabulary.

    I totally agree reptilian brain should not be ignored…i guess my point was that we tend to over-communicate to that part in all of us.

  • Park – so thrilled to make the story connection. Thanks for the awesome recommendations, both are new to my radar.

    Can't wait to connect more – your blog at http://www.parkhowell.com explores lots of fascinating territory in the area of storytelling and sustainability.

    I recently made a small contribution to a big project on the topic, examining story practices within corporate sustainability reports. Produced by http://www.globalreporting.org and http://www.volans.com and set for public release in late May.

  • Excellent, I'll take a look at those as well. I couldn't get your manifesto to download. I'd typically say, “I hate it when that happens.” But now I know better. : – )

  • One other note: The Heath bro's use our Water – Use It Wisely campaign as an example of “Triggers in storytelling” for a business class they teach at Stanford. Here's the story: http://bit.ly/d0VStq

    Haven't read “Switch” yet.

  • Sorry. what happened when you tried to download the manifesto? the link works when we test it, but some folks having trouble. Email me, [email protected] and I will send you the pdf.

  • Always loved the Heath brothers discussion of environment triggers. I remember that Fast Company article! Your campaign is a great example of defining common objects into symbolic stories.

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  • I'd say we over-communicate to our inner reptile unconsciously and under-communicate with conscious intent. For example, I love to play and I can tell you do too. Playful competitiveness adds juice to communication without activating resistance. Skilled manipulators know how to benefit from our reptilian reactions. Skilled communicators know how we can add a little primal energy to the recipe for everyone's benefit. Love our dialog on my SpeakStrong blog. Thanks for playing with me.

  • Right on Meryl. Definitely have enjoyed our playful banter and explorations as well.

    “The ancestor of every action is a thought.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

    The way that we think is thru language, and putting words together to form narratives. We often forget how language is a reflection of our underlying beliefs. And by shifting the boundaries of the narrative, we can change our world.

    Excited to keep shuckin' and jivin' with you.

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  • Michael Harris

    I am really glad you wrote this piece. I teach sales messaging through storyselling and so often I hear the story they tell their clients to help them change and it’s filled with their frustration with getting their clients to change. First of all we don’t make people change. All we can do is create a fertile environment for change and the rest is up to the customer. But this frustration results in the Seller hating their customer and what customer wants to see themselves in that story. It may sound weird yet i see it everyday. That’s why the Seller needs to reconnect with their story where they struggled in order to empathize with their customers. They make their customers the hero instead of being the loser that is then saved by the seller. The customer’s decision to be in the status quo once made sense, then outside forces changed (don’t blame the Seller) and then the Seller discovers a better way and the Seller acts as the mentor to facilitate change from a position of love not hate. That’s why your “New Me” Bio program is very useful as it reconnects people to their story of struggle before they emerged victorious and helps them tell a story that their clients want to see themselves in.

  • Michael Harris

    I am really glad you wrote this piece. I teach sales messaging through storyselling and so often I hear the story they tell their clients to help them change and it’s filled with their frustration with getting their clients to change. First of all we don’t make people change. All we can do is create a fertile environment for change and the rest is up to the customer. But this frustration results in the Seller hating their customer and what customer wants to see themselves in that story. It may sound weird yet i see it everyday. That’s why the Seller needs to reconnect with their story where they struggled in order to empathize with their customers. They make their customers the hero instead of being the loser that is then saved by the seller. The customer’s decision to be in the status quo once made sense, then outside forces changed (don’t blame the Seller) and then the Seller discovers a better way and the Seller acts as the mentor to facilitate change from a position of love not hate. That’s why your “New Me” Bio program is very useful as it reconnects people to their story of struggle before they emerged victorious and helps them tell a story that their clients want to see themselves in.

  • Tinker

    ‘Believe Me’, the social norm is the dominant story (big’ comp’ & rec’ adv’ are components.
    I did not prepare for battle when I set out to change it and got slammed.
    Good insights, wish I’d had access to them twelve years ago when I went took on the task.
    The old story is all about constraint of the superhuman potential. The old story will continue to rule over any variation of the personal story.
    WE can change the dominating story.