Here’s a truth you already know. Delegation is essential to be effective, productive and successful.
Here’s a truth you probably don’t know. Your brain hates the idea of it.
Why your brain won’t let you delegate
Your brain has two natural conditions: calm, relaxed and creative, or ready to protect you from a perceived threat. No matter how sunny our personality is, we all tend to spend far more time in the ‘negative’ state of avoiding threats. That was probably a very useful thing in evolutionary terms, but it can be downright obstructive when we’re trying to move forwards with something.
The idea of letting go of tasks, or delegating them to someone else, triggers all kinds of negative responses in our grey matter. We’re hard-wired to value certain things, and delegation goes against many of them.
What your brain says to you
For all its amazing skills, the brain isn’t good at distinguishing between physical threats (you’re about to get mugged), or social ones (someone’s about to give you some negative comments on some work you did).
It gets freaked out by three things that are fundamental to letting go.
Brain alert! You’re giving up autonomy!
Our ability to control our own environment is crucial to us. Whether or not it’s rational, the fear of giving up our freedom to do things how and when we want is very powerful. The danger-avoiding part of your brain would, frankly, much rather you did everything yourself.
Brain alert! You’re losing certainty!
The brain likes to know what to expect. Call it being in your comfort zone, if you like. It takes less brain power, and it’s less threatening. But the very act of asking someone else to do something means that there’s a possibility that the outcome might not be what you want. In addition, our negative bias mean we almost invariably focus on how it would be done much worse, rather than so much better. Uh-oh.
Brain alert! This could damage your relationships!
We are intensely social animals. Even the most introverted of us values strong relationships. Asking someone else to do things risks damaging a connection: what happens if it goes wrong? What happens if they don’t like me afterwards? Much better not to risk it…
What happens in your brain
When the brain spots a possible threat of this kind, it releases the same chemicals as in the ‘fight or flight’ response. These chemicals, among other things, reduce energy sent to the rational, creative, part of your brain, and divert it instead to the brain’s instinctive, primitive centre.
While you might not notice a physical need to run, you’ll experience an inner recoil and discomfort. You’ll feel that something about this situation is uncomfortable. And that’s often a good enough reason for us to go with it. We’ll even come up with ‘rational’ reasons to justify our inner responses, such as ‘it’s too expensive to get someone else in,’ ‘It’s quicker to do it myself’, or ‘I can do it better myself’, without feeling the need to question them.
Oh no! Can I beat my brain?
You can’t make your brain less comfortable with a perceived threat. But you can retrain it that certain things are ok. That’s essentially what trust and confidence are: when the brain is comfortable enough with a situation not to react negatively to it.
The best way to get comfortable with something is to do it. A lot. Letting go or delegation isn’t something that comes naturally to any of us. If you think that someone you know does it very easily, that almost certainly means that they’ve practiced it. A lot.
Practice, practice, practice… and then some more
What can you let go of or delegate in the next week? Choose something that isn’t crucial to your life or your business, but would be nice to have it if it went well. Maybe that’s sending some research to a virtual assistant, asking an expert to sort out something where you’re out of your depth, or simply asking a friend or family member to do something.
Think of it as brain training rather than immediately transforming your life. That will come as part of the process as you get better at it. If you can learn how to find the right person, how to brief them so you get the results you want, and how to work with them in a way that’s natural for you, you’ll find that you can hang onto the things that really make your life or business better, and get rid of the rest. And your brain is certainly going to thank you for that.