Ride the Dragon®

By: John Grinnell

Have you ever wondered why people continue to engage in behaviors that they and others know are not leading to success. No one wants to continue arguing with their spouse or not reach their business goals. Most people want to feel valued, smart and attractive. We all want to measure up and have a less stressed life; but something seems to fight against us. Once examined, understood and befriended, the dragon that stands guard holding our old wrong behaviors in place can become a guardian under our control helping us achieve more satisfying outcomes at work and in our personal life.

People are very predictable in how they think, feel and behave and the dragon keeps us there. Sometimes we are so “stuck” in the stupid stuff we do that it seems like someone must have a gun to our head. Contrary to popular belief, human beings are just as logical as accounting practices or engineering models, but operate by a different type of logic that Dr. James N. Farr called “psychologic.” That is: “Given a similar set of circumstances people tend to think and act the same way over, and over and over again.”

So how do we really get in control? How do we tame the dragon and get the outcomes in our leadership and life we want?

Self Awareness

The underlying and invisible force of habit that shapes human thinking, attitude and behavior does not have to be dictatorial if examined and understood. Standing guard, the dragon’s fire of “internal emotional discomfort” keeps us within habitual perceptions that support our wrong view and defensive posturing. To break free of blindspots and denial or the fear of change is not easy. If we can’t see our part in what’s going on, we can’t choose a more creative and “on-purpose” course of action. If we won’t feel uncomfortable it is usually impossible to change until it is too late. To break free of the dragon’s hold on us we must first be honest with ourselves and thereby understand the beliefs and behaviors that are leading us to dissatisfying outcomes. We then must choose new ones.


Once understood there is no guarantee that we will stop blaming others for the bad situations we find ourselves in. An important step in human and leadership development is to become truly responsible. Until we do others and the situations we find ourselves in are seen as being “done to us.” Acting like slaves to our environment, we justify our position with well-worn rationalizations that prove ourselves right and thereby are justified in not changing. Bad things do happen to people, but our response is a choice. We either step up as leaders of ourselves or we play victim. Leaders don’t play victim long. When real leaders, partners or parents get feedback that they are leading poorly, they could blame the situation or someone else, but they don’t. They step up and solve the problem. Bright and capable people who get fired, demoted or don’t reach their potential tend to have hit an emotional “sticking point.” Often they can’t see their contribution to the undesirable outcome that they in part, or whole, created.

Right Action

Once we are aware of our behavioral patterns and have accepted full responsibility, we must then find a new more “on-purpose” behavior to replace the old habit. Sometimes leaders need to ask others for advice here, as our blindspots will not allow us to see a good alternative. Once we have found the better behavior the real work begins; and is where we enter the dragon’s lair. Up to this point the dragon has automatically managed our behavior and has helped us achieve our current levels of success within familiar patterns of behavior. As we consciously change our behavior the dragon awakens, raises its ugly head and breathes the fire of uncomfortable emotions at us. Ironically, even behavior that is known to be positive like speaking our truth, asking for what we want, giving timely and accurate performance feedback, or listening and not having all the answers, will be met with the dragon’s fire if it breaks a familiar pattern. It is the dragon’s job to stand at the entrance to the cave to keep things consistent, fight adaptation and cause us to continue “arguing for our limitations.”

Ride the Dragon®

The dragon is seldom ignored, yet is only ridden by the aware and courageous few. Most continue to avoid “purposeful emotional pain,” which makes our lives better and heals us. The dragon’s emotional fire must be felt, and not shoved back down into the body through denial, repression or acting out the old behaviors. To ride the dragon we must first choose and then deliberately execute “on-purpose” action. We then must counter-intuitively feel awful before feeling better. It is amazing how many people come to our leadership seminars and have no idea about how to find the elusive treasure of a better experience behind the dragon’s fire of emotional discomfort. Years ago I studied with Albert Ellis, Ph.D., who developed a concept about irrational beliefs, which I modified creative and “on-purpose” leadership responses. “A” is the “activating situation,” whereby the belief “B” is engaged with a subsequent automated and non-creative response or “NCR” that leads to a bad outcome. We replace NCR with “C” or the “creative response” that leads to the “D” or “desired” satisfying outcome. When we disrupt the B-NCR automated connection we experience discomfort as things get better. It is at this point that the path requires us to “ride the dragon.” That is, to relax, 2X breathe and consciously continue on with our new “on-purpose” behavior.

2X Breathing

It seems too simple, but easily exhaling roughly twice as long as we inhale, while simultaneously bringing awareness to the place in our body where we feel the dragon’s emotional fire is a profound technique. Taught to me by my sword teacher when I lived in Japan, it has served as a valuable tool for me and many people I have coached over the years to go beyond their current behavioral boundaries. With conscious relaxation and 2X breathing amidst the dragon’s fire of emotional discomfort, the behavioral habit pattern begins to shift. Once, five times or five hundred times it may take, but if you don’t surrender your intention there will be a change. With each encounter there is a subtle communication to our limbic system (fight or flight) that this new and more appropriate behavior is different but not dangerous! As this shift is made, the dragon is on the way to becoming our guardian, under our control helping us sustain new behavioral patterns that lead to a life of greater success and satisfaction.