I was asked recently what is my favorite part of work. I had to think about it. I love giving keynote speeches. Conducting workshops for professionals eager to improve their leadership is always energizing. And I get incredibly invested in my individual coaching clients. After a moment, I responded, “Probably my very favorite time is when I see a client make a subject-object switch.” A what???

The subject-object switch (probably best articulated in Robert Kegan’s Theory of Adult Development) is often defined as moving what we ‘know’ from Subject (where it is controlling us) to Object (where we can control it).

This is where an analogy is helpful. Suppose I was born with purple contact lenses and I could never take them out. I would believe that the world is purple. Obviously. There’s no questioning it.

Now what if, instead of having purple contact lenses, I had glasses with purple lenses. I would still see the world as purple, but around the edge of my vision where the glasses end, I would start seeing parts of the world that weren’t purple.

And finally, suppose I could remove the glasses whenever I wanted. Now I could see that in actuality, the world is not purple.

That’s the Subject-Object Switch.

Perhaps you have a belief that you’re not as smart or capable as your co-workers. You know it’s true. You have lots of examples to prove it. And you’re not about to stick your neck out and go for that promotion because you’ll look stupid, be a failure and lose respect.

You are “subject” to these self-perceptions. You’re seeing yourself through purple contact lenses.

Perhaps through working with a coach, who helps you explore these beliefs, you realize that they might not be true. Perhaps you’re not stupid; perhaps you are capable of getting that promotion. When this realization that perhaps your self-perceptions are an illusion, your contact lenses begin to change to glasses.

And when you can take out these thoughts, examine them, discount them, and act accordingly, you have made these beliefs “objects.” Your subject-object switch on that topic is complete. It’s a joy to watch someone make this switch. All manner of things become possible.

A couple of questions you can ask yourself to start nudging you in your own subject-object switch:

  1. What would you do if you could?
  2. What’s stopping you? (whatever your answer is to this question is your subject; start dismantling it.)

I you want to explore how you can switch from self-beliefs that control you, to self-beliefs you control, let’s start the conversation

“People are crying up the rich and variegated plumage of the peacock, and he is himself blushing at the sight of his ugly feet.” 

― Sa’di