If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always had. I didn’t make that up. The internet says it was Henry Ford who first said this, or something like it.
Whether that’s accurate or not, this simple concept has been around long enough that every leader I know has heard it. Of course, just because they’ve heard it doesn’t mean they’ve applied it.
Recently, I got a keen lesson in this.
If you’ve been following my blog for the last decade or so, you may know my household includes a Meyer’s parrot named Horatio. Horatio has lived with us since he was six weeks old.
We acquired Horatio shortly after Caesar, our African Grey parrot who had shared a home with my wife Gimalle for twenty-eight years, relocated to that big birdcage in the sky. We were both heartbroken, but with a plethora of hysterically funny memories to treasure.
Caesar was the first parrot to put Ford’s adage into perspective for me.
If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always had.Henry Ford (click to tweet)
Your input guarantees your output
Gimalle had always gone to great lengths to ensure that Caesar’s vocabulary was pristine. She did this by ensuring she didn’t use words around the bird that could not be repeated in church.
This went awry when Gimalle began playing Hearts on her computer, which was located in the den alongside Ceasars cage.
It seems Gimalle is not a gracious loser.
Several months after the Hearts playing began we had a flood in our condo. A radiator malfunction caused 190 degree water mixed with glycol to pour through our condo, destroying everything in its path.
I had just left for the office when I received a frantic call to come home and by the time I got out of the elevator the cloud of steam, which I at first thought was smoke, was so thick that I could not see down the hallway to our door and for a moment I was panic stricken.
Suddenly through the steam, I saw Gimalle walking toward me holding something in her hands. I couldn’t see what she was carrying, or much of anything else. All I could hear was a little voice repeating a word over and over,
“Sh*t! Sh*t! Sh*t!”
The new word Caesar learned from Gimalle as she played Hearts was certainly applicable, if not exactly polite.
I’ll explain how exactly that fits with Ford’s adage in a moment. Meanwhile, back to Horatio.
No One Likes a Parrot That Bites
A few years after getting Horatio, his behaviour underwent a radical change. He began an incessant, relentless torrent of non-stop squawking. He would snap at us whenever we approached his cage. He began to bite us every chance he had, frequently drawing blood.
Off we went to the vet, in search of either solutions or intensive parrot psychotherapy.
The first question the vet asked was one I never would have connected to parrot behaviour.
“Have you changed his diet?” As it turned out, we had. Gimalle had recently begun giving him a new brand of parrot treats. The treats, the vet informed us, were very high in sugar.
Horatio found the treats delicious, devouring every morsel in his bowl to the exclusion of his other food. In essence, our parrot was on a permanent sugar high.
Gimalle immediately placed Horatio back on his former diet, and within a few days he was back to the playful, loving bird he had always been.
The lesson of what had happened was completely lost on me until Gimalle pointed it out.
Change the input and you will change the output.
Ford’s adage takes the opposite perspective: if you don’t change the input, you’ll keep getting the same output.
What Is Your Version of Parrot Treats?
How many of us spend countless days, if not years, of our lives feeding ourselves a constant diet of negative self-talk, criticism, blame, guilt, or ridicule? These habits are the venomous junk food of the mind. When we don’t choose our thoughts with care, we risk not liking the output, the way we feel and our ability to reach our goals.
Here is an interesting study from the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology that bolsters this perspective.
The results in our lives perfectly match the input we are regularly feeding ourselves.
Imagine how amazingly different the output in your life would be if you change the input.
So how, you might ask, is Caesar’s profane outburst related to this concept?
Well, you can’t fill your mind with junk 80% of the time and toxicity the other 20% and hope you’ll like your results.
Caesar was taught impeccable manners, but he also witnessed behaviour unbecoming to a civilized parrot. When he found himself in a moment of stress, he didn’t resort to the ideal behaviour, he immediately went to the less desirable behaviour.
Humans are no different. If you monitor your thoughts carefully most of the time, but regularly give into toxic self-talk, those toxic thoughts will be what emerge during times of difficulty, leaving you less able to deal with the crisis.
Once again demonstrating: if you don’t like the output, you need to change the input.
Till we read again.