Planning - What If?


How exactly do you retrain your auto pilot to choose a ‘deep breath’ instead of a ‘deep drag’.... I’ll tell you. But first I’m going to tell you a story about a widget weigher.

Warren was the widget weigher for Whichway Widget Works Ltd. He’d been the widget weigher since the company began many years ago. Warren cheerfully sat on his stool near the end of the widget assembly line where he’d weigh each widget, and depending on a widget’s weight, he’d decide where it would go, this way or that. When it came to weighing widgets, Warren was a wonder. In fact, Warren was so good that he could often tell a widget’s weight at a glance. There was a mechanical precision to the way Warren shunted widgets. This was Warren’s work, hour after hour, day after day, week… month… year after year. No one paid much attention to Warren though they were certainly grateful for him. He was simply always... there.

Now you might be thinking that this Warren character must be a bit odd to cheerfully sit and weigh widgets all day, let alone year after year. Could there be a job more tedious or mind numbing? Some of Warren’s co-workers wondered was he wanting in wit? In truth, Warren was just a simple soul of singular focus. He was a reliable, cheerful, and devoted Widget Works worker who never wearied and was always correct.

As time went on, the pressures of a changing market required changes to widgets and how they were constructed. Shifting demographics meant that now there was a want for widgets in different colours. Micro chips had made it possible to produce ‘wise widgets’.

One day, management called all the widget workers to a meeting and explained that in order for Whichway to continue to exist as a viable company, changes to both the widgets and the widget assembly line would have to be implemented. As it turned out, the change to Warren’s work was a relatively small one. In addition to weighing the widgets, he now had to take into account colour and whether a widget was wise. Only then could Warren correctly determine where to send the widget.

It was expected that there would be a certain amount of confusion and chaos as the new procedures and routines were introduced. While most of the widget workers managed to incorporate the new procedures with a minimum of difficulty and disruption, Warren was having a terrible time with the changes to his job. They confused and frightened him. Warren reacted as many people might, and that’s to focus even more intently on what’s familiar and to hold on even tighter to what they know ….. in Warren’s case it was only the widget’s weight.

Warren’s co-workers began to notice that widgets were going awry. They questioned who was throwing a wrench in the works. When they found out who, some began to get a bit impatient with Warren. A few called him stupid and stubborn. One accused him of sabotage. Another reasoned that if Warren wasn’t taking widget colour, weight and intelligence into account, then his results were incorrect and, in effect, lies. The more he was pointed at, accused, and attacked, the tighter Warren clung to his established patterns.

Management was in a wicked dilemma over what to do. Warren had been a loyal and reliable employee for years. They knew the union would never allow Warren to be fired. But what if he just couldn’t handle the new criteria for determining which way a widget went? What if they couldn’t find another to do the sort of work at which Warren had been so wonderful? Was there anyone who could ever do Warren’s job nearly as well?

And then, when it seemed as though there was no way to solve this problem, soft spoken, shy little Wendy stepped forward and said to management, “Warren isn’t witless, he isn’t a saboteur, and he doesn’t lie. The very attribute of his that’s made him such an important member of the Widget Works team for all these years is the very attribute that now stands in the way of him doing the job you need him to do. And that attribute is his ability to focus completely and exclusively on his job. It seems to me that the problem here is that you’ve ‘told’ him that he must change, but you haven’t ‘shown’ him how to change. If you’ll let me help Warren, I think we can have him up to speed very soon.” Management, desperate for a solution to the problem, agreed immediately.

Wendy took Warren aside and started to talk with him. She acknowledged his years of perfect service. She complimented him on his remarkable abilities. She asked him questions about his job and engaged his trust. Soon they were talking about widget weight, colour, and wisdom. Wendy led Warren to the widget line and asked him to show her very slowly, so she could understand, how he did his job. When he hesitated with widget colour, she helped him see that there were really only a few different colours and they were easy to name.With Wendy’s help, Warren discovered that he could discern, without worry, if a widget was wise or not. She listened and watched and helped him warm to directing which way widgets went according to colour and weight and wit.

Slowly, a bit hesitantly, Warren started to develop a rhythm of checking colour then weight then wit. In a relatively short time, Warren was winging widgets this way and that with the same accuracy and consistency with which he’d previously only weighed widgets. All he had really needed was for someone to show him how to change.... to lead him through the new procedures.


Each of us is a Widget Works. Your body cues are widgets that require direction. You are a co-worker who will either ridicule and criticize, or who, like Wendy, will work cooperatively. And finally, we each have a Warren, an auto-pilot, who monitors our body cues, is incredibly vigilant, and will forever do only what he's been trained to do. We cannot fire him, we cannot do his work for him, and we ignore him at our peril. But we can retrain our Warren. Once retrained and working with new criteria, he will continue to be the Warren we’ve always depended on to smoothly, mechanically, and correctly direct our widgets.

The End


So how do we get ‘Warren’ working with the new criteria? If you’ve spent a day or so with the Timer Exercise, you recognize body cues and the non-smoking responses that are immediately effective and you can redirect your auto pilot’s associations. However, you still need to be consciously involved in the process. That’s akin to you always standing at Warren’s elbow helping him choose correctly. We’ve all got other things to do with our lives and besides, Warren works best when he works alone. Using the same Timer Exercise format, you’re going to retrain him by simply shifting the time frame from ‘now’ to ‘in the future’.

In the first step of the CQ program, you develop the skill of accurately recognizing your body cues and effectively dealing with them. That’s about being aware - ‘now’. In the second step, you are going to use that skill and prepare for situations you can predict. That's about being aware - ‘in the future’.

Choose 2 or 3 situations that you expect to encounter later today, ideally from notes you’ve already done. Write them out like this

  Time – (the time you expect the situation to happen)
  Situation – (the anticipated situation – washing dishes, getting groceries, a       meeting, whatever)
  Body Cues – (based on your timer work so far, what body cues would you
  Rational Responses – (again from your timer work, what responses go with
     the expected body cues?)

Your auto pilot is usually first to recognize body cues and associate a response. That’s why shortly before the anticipated situation develops, you, the you reading this, need to pay attention. You need to be aware that a situation is about to happen. Use your timer to remind yourself if necessary. As the body cues appear, start your planned responses. This 'preparatory’ exercise will put you one step in front of your auto pilot and allow you to ‘lead’ your Warren through new patterns.

You can retrain your autopilot in a remarkably short time. Start by writing out your preparatory notes for at least 3 situations so you become familiar with the format. Once you can easily visualize the format, you can start doing them in your head. I call them ‘What ifs’ and they look like this:
     “What if - I’m sitting at the computer for an hour this afternoon? What body

      cues can I expect? What responses would work best? What time do I need
      to be ready to deal with those cues?"
And then be ready to direct your responses.

The more of these you do, the sooner Warren will take a deep breath instead of a deep drag.