I spend a fair amount of time urging clients to examine their mindset before setting out to create breakthroughs in their organization. Attitude is the single greatest prerequisite for success and I’m a firm believer that we have the power to choose how we think about situations and challenges we face.

But I confess, I sometimes have doubts. Am I being too glib, offering feel-good advice that’s tough to implement? Lord knows I struggle to choose a powerful mindset in a variety of areas: exercise, building my business, balancing my checkbook, etc. If changing your mind is so damn easy, why haven’t I done it throughout my life?

I recently had a breakthrough in one of my ‘problem areas’ – I consciously and intentionally changed my mind about something: soymilk. Specifically, I became committed to switching from dairy to soy in my morning latte. This is utterly trivial, but it’s revealed some “moves” I have since used to change my mind about other things.

It’s hard to describe just how stuck I was in my previous mindset: I knew, in my heart-of-hearts, that I wasn’t the kind of guy who would ever order a “soy latte”. In fact, when I overheard folks in the coffee shop asking for soymilk, I had irrational judgments and reactions: “what a pretentious, preening, hypochondriac, sissified yuppie!” I felt an urge to change my order to something less healthy, involving more dairy, just to compensate / spite / provoke the other person. (And if you think that’s strange, trying hanging out with me in the organic produce section of the grocery store!)

A couple of months ago, I joined an accountability group focusing on weight loss – a bunch of guys committed to supporting each other in eating better, exercising more and dropping a few pounds. Despite my best efforts, my weight hardly budged. After a few weeks of frustration, I realized I had to do more: I needed to cut carbs and fat, and increase protein. Article after book after website suggested the same thing: drop dairy… switch to soymilk.

One fateful morning, I did it: I pulled my barista aside and whispered to her, “Look, I’m a bit uncomfortable about this, so please don’t make a big fuss, but I’d like to order a soymilk latte.” And what do you know? It tasted pretty good. I had another one that afternoon. The next day, when I went shopping, I ventured down the hippy aisle in the grocery store and bought a container of soymilk to use at home. Fast forward a month or so, and I’ve cut cow milk out of my diet entirely. Me. The guy who would never, ever, in a million years put soymilk in his latte had been transformed.

How did that happen? What steps enabled me to change my mind about this trivial topic… and can I repeat the process in other areas of my life? Looking back, I see seven keys to my success:

  • Reason. I had a reason, a motivation, an urge to change. I want to be more fit. 
  • Willingness. I found it within myself, if only for a moment, to acknowledge that what I was doing wasn’t working and that I needed to change.
  • Rationale. I had “facts and data” that supported the change. Where reason and willingness worked on my ‘heart’, rationale addressed my ‘mind’.
  • an Experiment. I tried it once. And I didn’t die. In fact, I kind of liked it.
  • Environment. Soymilk is available at my coffee shop – but getting it into my house was key. I changed my environment to make it easier to sustain the change.
  • Support. I told my barista about the change, I mentioned it to my wife, I told the guys in my accountability group… and even though they never said a word about it, I felt as though I needed to follow through; I felt as though I could turn to them for support; I felt ‘safe’ making this change.
  • Repetition. With a reason, willingness, and a rationale for changing to soymilk – having tried it and liked in, brought it into my home and enlisting the support of oithers, it was easy to repeat the behavior each day. It became easier and easier.

Note: I didn’t set out to change my mindset; I started by changing my behavior. Over time, with repetitions, my mindset changed. This is a great example Jerry Sternin’s adage, “it’s easier to act your way into new thinking than think your way into new acting.” After drinking a half-dozen soymilk lattes I changed my self-identity – turns out I am the kind of guy who drinks soymilk! (I recommend James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. His take on this is deeply insightful.)

Here’s the kicker: fresh from my success with this small change, I felt excited and open enough to change other behaviors. I’m not the kind of guy who weighs his food and counts calories; I’m not the kind of guy who takes walks or gets 45 min of cardio each day; I’m not the kind of guy drinks two or three glasses of water before each meal. Except, it turns out, I am! Using the same steps above, I’ve incorporated all of these behaviors into my life – and my mindset about these things has shifted.

Let’s bring this back to leadership and creating performance breakthroughs: no matter what you’re up to, changing your mindset and helping others change theirs, will be vital to your success. Don’t for a minute assume everyone is on-board! Just as I had crazy ideas about soymilk, influential people within your team have crazy ideas about worker safety (“workplace injuries are part of evolution – removing idiots from the gene pool”), mentoring (“the sink or swim method was good enough for me… let them sort it out themselves”), customer service (“cheap, fast or good – choose two”), etc.  These mindsets and dozens like them are alive within your organization and will cause mischief until you shift them.

Whatever you’re up to, start by examining your own mindset – and then help others examine theirs. Create reason and offer rationales for change; help people make small experiments and changes to their environment; and when you see the desired behavior, celebrate and encourage it. If a guy like me can drink a soymilk latte, there’s no limit to what you and your team can accomplish.

Interested in learning more?  Ready to change mindsets in your organization?  We’re ready to help.  

About the author: Andy Erickson is a founder and principal consultant at Humanus Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in people-centric leadership. He can be reached at aerickson@humanus-solutions.com

One thought on “Changing my mind: leadership and soymilk

  1. Robin says:

    Fun article Andy and it reflects many of my own learnings (I cut out sugar) and my facilitation training. The image we operate out of is powerful,demonstrated by behaviour and held in place by values…. you’ve beautifully articulated the relationships!!

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