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Are you at Cause or Effect?


By Robb Whitewood

Cause and effect is a fundamental concept for me. I think it is one of the biggest things for producing change. When something happens to you and you acknowledge that thing, then that puts you at effect. You’re pretty much powerless to do anything. But when something happens and you ask, “How did I make that happen?” That question helps you find the cause which then helps you to change the behavior. If you constantly blame someone or something else for your pain, you literally become powerless to do anything about it. This is called living on the effect side of the cause and effect equation.

“We live in a blame culture that’s so bad that if there is a cliff face without a sign and someone falls, the council can be sued.”

A friend of mine was the mayor of Parks, a town in Australia. He happens to be the longest serving mayor in the history of Australia. He said that if one more person sued the Council for tripping over a foot path he would rip out all the foot paths in all of the parks. He added that if another kid fell out of a swing and the family sued the council, all swings in the park would be gone. This is how litigious society has become. We live in a blame culture that’s so bad that if there is a cliff face without a sign and someone falls, the council can be sued. The irony is the knock on effect; people are now so trained to NOT take responsibility for themselves that even with a railing in place, some people would still sit on the railing and then wonder why they fell. This is instead of taking responsibility for the fact that they should have checked the stability of the railing before sitting on it.

The subject of cause and effect is interesting to dissect.  If we look at the effect of things, or what has actually happened, you end up pointing the finger of blame. But if you are on the cause side of the equation, what you get is results. The more you pull your awareness from effect, the more you can focus on what is actually occurring and therefore have the power to do something about it. I will guarantee that on certain aspects of your life, you will be sitting on cause side of the equation. And with other aspects of your life, you will be sitting on the effect side of the equation. It is almost like a pendulum in that respect, it will swing from one side to the other, depending on what area of your life you are looking at.

Let’s make the assumption here that we can eliminate all of the effect side of the equation and focus on cause. Because of this formula, we end up with empowerment. Focusing on cause gives you the ability to solve problems. I may not know that I am the cause of everything that happens to me in my life but, when I accept that “shit happens” (and pretend that whatever is going wrong in my life is happening to me like I am separate from it) instantly, I am powerless to do anything about it. On the other hand, I could choose to believe there was some action that I took that caused it to happen. In this way, there must be some other action I can take to generate the outcome that is beneficial for me.

You could argue, for example, that it’s Robb’s fault that this bad thing happened to me because he carried out this action. You would be disempowering yourself. You were part of the cause in the perceived problem with Robb by simply being in the relationship. Whether in your relationship with the person, your attitude, your thoughts, opinions or bias; whatever it is caused the thing to occur. You could still make excuses at this point, but I would argue that the moment you start to do that, you put yourself back at the effect side of the equation, completely powerless to do something about it.

“One of the common traits of highly successful people is that they are at cause.”

One of the common traits of highly successful people is that they are at cause. They place themselves there. For example, I could be having some sort of communication issue with you. Placing myself at the cause, I would naturally and instantly be empowered to begin to look for solutions, to the communication issue. Placing blame is a really easy cop out that keeps you at effect keeping you powerless to change the communication issue.

My dad has an interesting saying. Putting the cause and effect equation simply and succinctly, he says, “Robb, if you find yourself in a problem, get yourself out.” Another wise person I know says, “When you find yourself in a ditch, stop digging.” These sayings are both true, because whatever your situation is, your behaviour has got you to that particular point. At rehab programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the first step is to raise your hand and say, ‘I have a problem, and this problem does not have anything to do with the rest of the world. I am the cause.’ This can be a difficult thing to do, to be able to hold your hands up and say, “I am at cause.” However, as I make that statement to myself, I can then do something about it. This also includes the choices of people that you hang around with. I have found that when I put myself at cause, the people around me either fall away or they pick up their game. This is often called the ‘Drama cycle’- victim, persecutor, rescuer, and observer. People who are in victim mode actively go out looking for persecutors to persecute them and rescuers to rescue them. This is a cycle because they need the persecutor so they can have the problem so that they need the resources of the rescuer. Rescuers spend their time actively looking for a victim so that they can save them, which boosts their sense of self-esteem. The moment you start to change your role in this drama cycle, the other parties involved start to fall away as you no longer fit into whatever role you were playing for them, victim or persecutor. If I am the one being victimized and I get myself at cause, I need to ask myself exactly what it is that I am doing to cause the behavior of the persecutor.

“I’m going to be brutal here and say that if you walk into a situation and someone tries to hit you over the head, something in you caused that to occur.”

As humans, we are constantly working out where we are within groups. Are you dominant or passive? If you are constantly being dominated in a situation, the question is what you are doing to allow that to occur. If you don’t ask yourself this, you are at effect and are powerless to change the situation. If I act as if I am dominant, I am instantly empowered to do something about it. I’m going to be brutal here and say that if you walk into a situation and someone tries to hit you over the head, something in you caused that to occur. That causing factor may be something unconscious that you and the offender are completely unaware of. Animals, especially cats and dogs, will not run after something as if it is prey until it ACTS as if it is prey. The very action of running away is the signal to the cat or dog that the thing they were observing is prey. Up until the point when the prey started to run, the prey was not aware that it was prey and the predator was not aware that it was a predator. So when it comes to cause and effect, I would like to challenge you from this point on.  Make “I am at cause,” your catch phrase from now on and remember, “If it is to be it is up to me”.

Robb teaches the concepts of cause and effect within the NLP Practitioner course offered by Dynamic Mind Works. Sign up from the home page to gain access to 8 NLP videos.