Experience Cube graphic

After the video interview I gave about the ‘Experience Cube’ model on Gavin Ingham’s Thrive Project site, Gavin asked me to share the core elements of the Cube in the comments.

So I did – and before I knew it, I’d written enough to post here as well. It’s an introduction to the Experience Cube in accessible language. Here we go:

We can look at our experience in any given moment as having four elements:

  • Observations – what we can actually see, hear, etc
  • Thoughts – what we believe, what we tell ourselves
  • Emotions – what we are feeling
  • Wants – what we want to happen, what we want to do, goals etc.

All four areas influence each other. For example, our internal dialogue (thoughts) may change depending on how we are feeling. Even what we notice (observations) are affected by what we think and believe – e.g. the ‘confirmation bias’ that we all have.

As human beings we mostly don’t like uncertainty – it makes us anxious. We try to make sense of things. If we don’t know what’s going on, we’ll make up a story in our minds that we find plausible.

When we get anxious we start confusing these stories with observations, so we think and talk as if our guesses about what’s going on are actual reality. This leads to bad decision making!

Especially since our guesses about what’s going on are probably worse than actual reality, due to our built-in negativity bias which means we pay more attention to threats than opportunities.

You can pick this up in people’s language – for example when they say “I feel this isn’t working out”, that’s not a feeling, it’s a thought! Or if they say “Now calm down” when you are actually calm (at least you were until they said that), they are confusing the story they made up (that you are angry) with reality. They’re ignoring any possible alternative explanations for the observations they made that led them to that conclusion.

As a leader, your team are going to be looking to you more than usual to make sense of what’s going on in times of uncertainty. So you need to be clear in explaining your actions to them. If you aren’t, they’ll make up an explanation which is probably worse (more anxiety provoking) than the real one.

So what’s the antidote to all of this in your own thinking? When you are anxious, or you don’t like the way things are going, examine your own experience through the lens of the Experience Cube. What do you notice? What are you telling yourself? What do you feel? And what do you want?

The first time I tried this, I was surprised at the calming effect that it had.

The other interesting thing is that pretty much everyone seems light in one area, maybe putting more emphasis on another area. So they might be very strong on what they feel but not say much about what they want. Or they have lots of thoughts and theories but don’t notice much of what’s going on around them.

We don’t notice our own blind spots – it’s our experience, so it just seems like reality to us. But being aware of the quadrants of the Experience Cube and asking ourselves those questions makes us notice the whole of our experience.

Of course that makes it a useful coaching model too. It’s a lot easier for someone else to notice if we are skimping on one area of our experience than it is for us to notice it ourselves.

So if you’re a leader or business owner and your team is getting anxious, tell them what your experience is, using all four quadrants of the Experience Cube – and make sure you’re identifying your thoughts as such, not presenting them as objective reality.

You could say “This is what I believe is happening” or “This is what I think might be going on” or “This is why I think it happened”.

Your team will be reassured by this, especially compared to if you leave them guessing about why you acted the way you did, or why you made a particular decision.

More about the Experience Cube in this article.

And loads more in Gervase Bushe‘s book Clear Leadership: Sustaining Real Collaboration and Partnership at Work.

The Experience Cube Explained In A Page

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