If lack of self-confidence is keeping you from going after the life you want, you have to meet Julie. She’s a smart woman with a mission to change the world.
When she began working with me, Julie was just starting her business providing Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) to children on the Autism Spectrum and their families. RDI helps children on the spectrum form personal relationships, develop the ability to think flexibly and improve their quality of life.
Julie was just finishing intensive training to be certified in using RDI. She knew it worked. She knew she could improve the lives of children and their families enormously. But she wasn’t getting her business out into the world. She was questioning herself, afraid to ask for money, and allowing herself to be stopped by fear. She was holding herself back.
So we got to work. Now she is able to speak about what she does much more naturally, without the fear. She is making connections that will help her reach more people. And she has clients starting with her.
As we worked together, the changes in her were so noticeable they even turned her husband from a skeptic about this weird EFT stuff I do into a fan who was happy to take over childcare whenever she had a session with me!
Julie gives a lot of credit for all these changes to doing EFT/Tapping with me. In fact, I’ll toot my own horn here and quote Julie, who said: “You have to work with Nancy to get past the blocks that have been holding you back. I think where I am now would not be possible without my work with Nancy.”
Watch the video to hear from Julie herself.
I’m so impressed by Julie. She has worked so hard and is finally poised to make a huge difference for so many people. You Go Girl!
When you’re ready to stop procrastinating and create the life you are meant to live, email me. We’ll set up a call to talk about what’s going on with you and see if I can help.
If you don’t really expect much from your New Year’s resolutions—or you’ve given up making them entirely—try this technique. It whittles away at what’s going on below the surface that’s keeping you stuck.
There’s a reason your resolutions usually don’t work, and it has nothing to do with how motivated you are to make a change. When you try to make a big change, something gets triggered subconsciously, like:
• a fear,
• a belief, or
• a competing need.
When that reaction is too powerful for willpower alone to overcome, you eventually give up on your resolution. And that’s why the resolution never seems to last much longer than February. Year after year.
Tapping is a great way to let go of those kinds of fears, beliefs and needs. The easy 3-step technique in this video is one way to try out some simple Tapping on your own on any resolution you’ve struggled with. It whittles away at what’s going on below the surface that’s holding you back.
So watch the video to get started making that resolution work for you. And you don’t have to wait for January 1st. You can use it anytime you want to make a change!
If you want to stop procrastinating once and for all and start living the life you are meant to, email me. We’ll set up a call to talk about what’s going on with you and see if I can help.
When you think about yourself in your work, do you see yourself as successful, competent, professional, just the way you want others to see you? If your answer is “yes,” then this tip is not for you. But if you see yourself in any other way—e.g., as a little kid in the corporate grown-up’s world, or as an arty type who’s floundering as a businessperson, or as a small-time player only pretending to do what you’re claiming to do and hoping no one sees through you—then read on.
I’ve found with many of my clients that one of the biggest internal blocks they have is that they don’t believe they are the person they are trying to be. They focus on what they are doing, thinking that if they just do what they are supposed to in their role, they will grow into it and finally be, and feel, successful. While there is no denying that you have to do what your boss, clients or customers need, how you see yourself—whether that is as a respected VP or successful business owner or, conversely, as the complete opposite—will also have a big impact on how well you succeed.
Take for example the solopreneur who knows she has a great service that other people need. She’s knows the marketing steps she needs to take to get the word out so customers who need her can find her. But she sees herself as someone who just isn’t a “real” businessperson, just someone who’s dabbling in her business. When she considers going to networking events, or giving presentations, or fielding calls from prospective customers, that internal view of herself is not only going to block her from doing things she needs to do (“oh well, maybe I’ll skip this networking event since I’m not likely to impress any potential customers”), it’s going to leak out when she does get out there and talk with people (like mumbling her words when she asks if they would like to buy her service).
When you feel like you’re faking it, it’s almost impossible to keep all of the discomfort you’re feeling from showing up in the subtle ways you hold yourself and act. Even those who are able to “stop up all the leaks” still aren’t presenting themselves as powerfully as they could if they weren’t using so much energy to combat the negative image they have of themselves.
Of course, there is some power in the idea of “fake it ‘til you make it.” You will get more confident the more you do something, but it takes time and that can lead to lost opportunities. So I recommend taking a shortcut to get that confidence more quickly: start doing things to see yourself as the successful person you want to become.
Dress for the part you’re playing.
First, be sure you look the part. There is a truism in career coaching that, instead of dressing for the job you have, you should dress for the job at least one step above you on the corporate ladder. The reason given is usually that you are more likely to get noticed and thought of as being capable of handling that role. This is true and not to be sneezed at, but there is an even more powerful reason in my book. When you dress a certain way, you start to act that way.
I once heard that when judges put on their black robes, something changes inside of them. They feel like a judge and start to act more authoritatively than before. Similarly, military people keep their uniforms carefully tended. Think of the sergeant yelling “Tuck in that shirt. Shine those shoes. You’re a Soldier now!” or words like it to the new recruits at bootcamp. Dressing that way helps the recruits start to act with the conviction that they are soldiers.
So consider how the person you want to be dresses. This is especially important for small business owners. Maybe you think you can get away with wearing old T-shirts and jeans, or even a robe and fuzzy slippers, since most days you don’t see customers. Don’t do it! You need to change the way you see yourself. Dress every day as if you were going to meet a potential customer. The more you dress the part, the more you’ll believe in the “new you.” (Plus, you never know when you’ll meet a potential client at the local cafe.)
For the same reason, keep your grooming up. Successful business professionals typically don’t let their hair get shaggy, or pour on the goth eyeliner of their rebellious youth. You want to catch sight of your reflection in store windows and wonder who that successful person is, not reinforce the idea that you’re somehow not good enough.
Gather photographic proof that you are the person you want to be.
You can get a regular boost from seeing pictures of yourself looking the way you want to look. Perhaps you have a photo of you with an expression of complete determination as you are going down the rapids on your last vacation. Or one from your sister’s wedding where you are holding your head up with great confidence. Maybe you have an easy smile in a candid shot from your last training. Gather up as many photos like this as you can find. Put together a collage of them and hang it on the back of your door. Use them as rotating wallpaper on your laptop. Or put them around your home where you’ll notice them every day.
If you have trouble coming up with photos that speak to you of the success you want, get a good headshot. A lot of people try to save money by hunting around for a decent candid shot from the last company retreat, or use a photo from ten years ago that is “good enough” on their websites, business cards or announcements. That won’t accomplish what you want. You need a headshot that shows the parts of you that are capable, confident, professional—whatever it is you are trying to grow into. Just know that you have those abilities already, even if you haven’t exercised them as much as you’d like. A good photographer can capture the moments when those expressions shine through. You’ll probably have to wade through a lot of mediocre shots, but that’s normal. Don’t get discouraged. There will be a few that make you say “Wow” when you see them.
Don’t skimp on this. Ask around for referrals to a photographer who has a good reputation for getting great shots of businesspeople and go with them. You’re looking for someone who can capture the sparkle in the eye of people who don’t spend their lives in front of a camera. (Not everyone offers this service. I know of a small business owner who went to a photographer who worked with models and actors. She was shocked when she found out he hadn’t been practicing his smile for their shoot. And neither of them liked any of the pics she took.) A good headshot can really remind you of who you are becoming.
Stand up straight and smile. (Really.)
How you hold your body and your expression are additional ways you can start to change how you think of yourself. Remember that soldier? He is taught to stand at attention with “chin up, chest out, shoulders back, stomach in.” Try it now. You actually feel more confident when you stand or sit that way. And there is a famous study in which people making certain expressions (e.g., anger, fear) for a time started to feel the emotion they were mimicking, even though they hadn’t felt that way when they began. So channel your mother. Remind yourself to stand up straight and smile at times during the day. (Don’t smile constantly though. That’s just creepy.)
If you take these simple steps to change the external you, you’ll be on your way to changing the internal view you have of yourself.
In my last two tips I’ve described the benefits you get from using optimistic explanations when you have setbacks in your business (“What Optimism Will Get You”) and what the elements of such an optimistic explanation are (“The Elements of Optimism That Can Unblock You”). I have culled this information for business owners from Martin Seligman’s classic book Learned Optimism, which is filled with ways to use optimism in multiple areas of your life. I recommend going to the source if you really want to dig in and make significant change to your whole life.
Of course, some people are naturally optimistic. If that is you, you have my permission to skip the rest of this post. This post is for the rest of us. It shows us how to develop an optimistic explanatory style to use when things go wrong in our business so that we can avoid feeling helpless and instead keep our energy and motivation going.
First, a quick recap. A pessimist explains bad things that happen in her business as permanent (“I’ll never sell this”), universal (“no one wants what I have to offer”), and internal (“It’s all my fault; I’m horrible at marketing”). An optimist explains his setbacks as temporary (“My sales figures have gone down with the dip in the local economy, but they’ll go up again when the economy picks up”), specific (“The last person I talked to didn’t need my services, but the next one might”), and external (“She wouldn’t listen to my offer all the way through; now must be a bad time for her”). For more examples of what this looks like, check out my last article.
Seligman has an involved technique using the ABCDE model from cognitive therapy to recognize and change your pessimistic explanations to optimistic ones, but I’m going to boil it down to its essence here, which is the “D.” “D” stands for “dispute.” When you catch yourself overwhelmed or feeling like giving up when you have a setback, call to mind what you told yourself about it. You probably have thoughts like: “I’m such a loser;” or “Why would anyone hire me?” or “Nothing is ever going to work out.” Those thoughts feel pretty powerful—and true—don’t they? And they sap your energy for going forward, making you feel like giving up.
Now imagine that those words were being yelled at you by your worst enemy. They don’t feel so true or powerful now, do they? In fact, you probably would tell your enemy exactly where he got it wrong. It’s time for a big realization. You are your worst enemy. So dispute what you are saying the same way you would dispute it if it came from your enemy.
Of course, this is easier said than done. You’ve probably got years, maybe a lifetime, of practice coming up with such negative explanations. So Seligman provides four ways to dispute with yourself:
look for the evidence;
consider alternative ways of looking at what happened;
think about the real implications of what happened; and
decide how useful your explanation is.
What Is The Evidence?
So you have been telling yourself a lot of lies and half-truths with these negative explanations for what happened. They only feel true because they are coming from inside of you. But just because they feel true doesn’t make them true. I’ve heard of one ABCDE approach that describes “E” as “play detective and look for the Evidence.” Look for the evidence that what you told yourself is true or false, or likely to be true or false. Look for ways that it is overstated. Look for what the statement missed. Be Sherlock Holmes. Often you will find you jumped to the worst possible conclusion based on very thin evidence indeed. This can often come up naturally when you think about disputing what an enemy said.
What Are the Alternatives?
So you’ve told yourself that you are a total loser and nothing ever goes right for you because something went off the rails at work. I know, I know, it feels true. Stop listening to your feelings now and listen to your head. What are other ways to look at what happened? If you are having trouble getting started, go back to the list. You are looking for explanations of the negative event that make it temporary, specific and limited to what happened, and/or due to causes outside of you.
If this still has you stumped, ask a friend you trust to give her alternatives. Don’t argue with her, just write down her list. Some of her possible explanations will be acceptable as is. You can also use her ideas as a springboard to get your own creative thoughts flowing.
Once you have a few alternatives on your list, you can go back to look at the evidence. Which one fits the evidence you have best? Or if there is no evidence, recognize that you can’t choose between the alternatives. (“She just hung up on me. I don’t know if she’s mad about the report, just got an urgent message about her kid, or AT&T decided to take away my cell phone service again. It could be any of them.”)
What Are the Implications of Your Explanation?
Let’s say that your explanation is correct. Yes, this client has fired you and is never coming back because you screwed something up. Does that really mean no one will ever hire you again? That you have nothing to offer? That all your clients will pull their business and you will have to go into bankruptcy? That you will end up living under a bridge? Take a deep breath and stop catastrophizing. Go back to the evidence. Consider what is likely to happen. Then look at what you can do to improve the situation going forward.
How Useful Is Your Explanation?
Let’s say you got yourself dead to rights. You screwed up big time and it’s bad. Will thinking about that screw up now do you any good? Of course, if you make a mistake you want to learn from it. (“My presentation was really poor. I probably did my reputation some damage with that one. I need to get some help on developing my presentation skills and put in some practice before the next one.”) But what about just brooding about how bad it went; going over and over how you blew it? Is that really useful? Probably more likely it is getting in the way of things you need to do, so you need to stop thinking about it.
There are three great ways to get out of dwelling on a negative event:
Do something physically distracting, then force yourself to think about something else that can hold your attention. So, if you keep flashing on that awful presentation, splash cold water on your face or snap a rubber band on your wrist whenever the thought comes to mind. Then think about, say, what additional product your favorite client might need from you. For this to work, you will want to have your interesting alternative thing to think about worked out in advance.
Schedule a time to think about what is bothering you. Then, whenever you catch yourself dwelling on the event, you tell yourself “Stop! I’ll work on that at 8 tonight.” You need to actually schedule the time, it needs to be at least fifteen minutes, and you really need to sit down and think about it during that time for this to work, though.
Write down your troubling thoughts as soon as they come up. You can then come back to work on ways to fix the mess deliberately rather than having the thoughts come up and pull your focus at inconvenient times.
Of course, you could combine two or all three of these approaches to get the maximum benefit. Schedule a time to think about the negative event. Then, whenever a negative thought about it comes up, write it down, snap that rubber band, say “I’ll think about this at 8 tonight” and think about something else. Or just pick one approach. Whichever you choose, do something to get on with what is important to you and get out of the negative spiral of dwelling on a negative event.
So go ahead and dispute the negative things you tell yourself when things go wrong. Pretend that a drunk on the street just said what you told yourself. Tell him all the ways he’s wrong. Tell him what the evidence is. Tell him the big picture and the real implications for what happened. Or decide what he’s saying is not useful now and take steps to turn your attention on to other matters. Whatever you do, don’t roll over and take it. You wouldn’t take it from a drunk or your worst enemy. So don’t take it from yourself. Dispute it and get your energy and motivation back. It may just be the way to get your business on track.
Last week I started a series on the practical application of Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism to improve your results in your work. Last week in my post What Optimisim Will Get You I explained why using an optimistic approach can get you past some of your blocks and when to use it. This week I’ll explain the three elements of the optimistic explanatory style that get you motivated and energized.
Optimism as Seligman describes it is not some sort of dewy-eyed, happy-go-lucky approach to life that someone is born with. Likewise, being pessimistic does not mean going around being grouchy all the time. Instead they are ways of explaining events in your life. And since you can learn how to use an optimistic explanatory style, you can get the benefits of being an optimist even if you’ve never thought of yourself as one before. (By the way, if you think of yourself as a “realist,” you most likely use a pessimistic explanatory style more often than not.)
We will focus here on ways to get unblocked by changing how you explain to yourself why bad things happen in your job or business. Explain setbacks the wrong way and you’ll feel helpless, like it isn’t worth trying anymore, and your career or business will suffer accordingly. Explain them in the right way and you’ll bounce back quickly from the same setbacks, sometimes with more excitement and energy than ever, leading to all sorts of good results at work. So identifying when your explanations are blocking you and changing them to more motivating language are important skills to develop.
Everyone feels at least momentarily helpless in the face of a failure. The pessimist decides he is helpless and gives up. The optimist looks at the same failure and thinks of ways to limit it so he can go on to succeed. To react to a setback with optimism, you need to look at the three Ps of how you explain what happened, or your explanatory style: Permanence, Pervasiveness and Personalization.
Permanence: Temporary (Optimistic) v. Permanent (Pessimistic)
First, Permanence. An optimist thinks of a bad thing as a temporary setback, arising out of temporary conditions that will or can be changed. A pessimist believes it is something permanent that’s going to last for a long time because it was caused by traits that will not change in himself, or the economy, or in potential buyers, or in “people.” To use the optimistic approach, look for ways that a situation is temporary or the conditions for it can be changed.
Instead of thinking “No one is going to buy from my company in such a bad economy; I’m doomed,” you might think “Yes, the economy is bad right now, but it always cycles out of downturns eventually. I just need a plan for how to get through this lean patch.” Or “What can I provide that people need now because the economy is bad.”
Instead of “That was terrible. I’ll never get the hang of sales,” think “I blew that sales pitch, but I can go back over my notes and practice for the next one, and maybe get some pointers from my friend on how to handle that kind of objection.”
Instead of “My boss ignored my idea at the meeting because she doesn’t want to try anything new. I won’t bug her about it anymore,” try something like “My boss has seemed pretty out of it lately. Maybe she has too much on her plate to consider my idea right now. I can check back with her in a few weeks to see if anything has changed.”
So if you catch yourself thinking people, or situations, or even you, are “always” or “never” a certain way, and will never change, find ways to limit your conclusions. Remember: situations and people change all the time, so “always” and “never” thoughts are usually wrong on their face. Dig deeper for ways change may happen.
Pervasiveness: Specific (Optimistic) v. Universal (Pessimistic)
Next, Pervasiveness. A pessimist thinks a setback in one area means everything is going to go bad in all areas. She sees it as a universal failure. An optimist sees the setback as limited to the one event. He sees the failure as specific. Here’s how those two explanatory styles might look:
“All bosses will throw you under the bus to save their own career (so I’ll just keep my head down” v. “This boss will throw me under the bus to save his career (and I better get my resume updated)!”
“My services are worthless” v. “My services are worthless to this guy, but maybe that guy over there needs what I do right now.”
“The job market is in the tank. No one is getting hired right now. I’m never going to get an interview” v. “The overall numbers don’t look good, but my region is picking up faster than other parts of the country” or “my industry is actually growing” or “I’m not getting hired by statistics; I just need one offer from one company with one opening. There is always turnover from people retiring, moving away, or even dying. Something will open up if I just keep sending out resumes and networking.
Personalization: Externalization (Optimistic) v. Internalization (Pessimistic)
Finally, Personalization. A pessimist internalizes the cause for a failure, saying “I’m the cause of this problem” and calls themselves names (“I’m such an idiot.” “I can’t sell lemonade to people in the desert.” “I’m a total failure in this job.”) An optimist externalizes the cause, blaming outside people or forces. (“My co-workers didn’t do their homework.”)
Two things to be aware of on this last explanatory pitfall. First, it is the least important, so if you have limited time to make changes in your own explanatory style, focus on the other two. Second, and more importantly, you will not improve if you do not take responsibility for your mistakes. If you caused a problem, or were a significant reason for a failure, own that. But don’t call yourself names. Instead look at how you can change, learn or grow from what happened. That’s the optimistic and effective approach that will lead to better results in your career or business.
For the next week, pay attention to how you use the 3 Ps when something goes wrong. Do you see it as a permanent problem that is pervasive throughout all areas that is caused by your personal failings? If you find you lean toward any of those pessimistic explanations, you will want to get started on changing your explanations so you can be more effective and energized when you want.
Coming up next, I’ll detail some of Seligman’s specific techniques for changing a pessimistic explanatory style to an optimistic one.
I’m back! I took a few weeks off to follow Stephen Covey’s advice to “sharpen the saw” (and maybe get a little downtime in to increase my creativity), and now I feel ready to get back to work in a big way. While I was away, I spent some time re-reading an oldie but goodie, Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism. In his book, Seligman points to research that shows that, for the most part, pessimists get bad results and optimists get good results in their achievements, mood, health, and (possibly) longer life.
The book is full of great information that you can use to improve many areas of your life. I’m just going to focus here on how you can use his research to improve your work, but feel free to get your own copy of his book to get all the benefits his approach offers. Since this is important, and Seligman has a lot to say, I’m going to describe it over several articles.
In this post we’ll look at what optimism can do for you, when you should use an optimistic approach and when you should choose a more cautious, pessimistic style. Optimism can be very powerful and overcome a lot of self-imposed blocks to your success, but you wouldn’t want to use it in every situation. Sometimes a touch of pessimism is called for.
First, What an Optimistic Approach Can Do For You
When a negative event happens, big or small—maybe the boss frowns at you, a client ends the relationship, you get fired—everyone feels at least momentarily helpless. For someone with an optimistic explanatory style, it hurts, but the feeling goes away relatively quickly and they can get on with creating the life and work they want. For someone with a more pessimistic explanatory style, that helpless feeling can go on a long time, leaving them stuck right where they are. So how we explain what happens to us determines how helpless or energized we become, which affects what we do, which in turn affects what we achieve.
Let’s see how this works. Imagine your boss tells you that your work on that last report was not up to her expectations. If you are a pessimist, you think things like “I’m no good at this,” or “Bosses always shoot you down,” or “I never get anything right.” This way of thinking saps your energy, leaving you with a feeling of Why Bother. If you are no good, you never get anything right, and your boss will always shoot down your efforts, there is no point to even trying. So you lose motivation, put in less effort at work and the next thing you know your reviews go downhill and you’re stuck in a dead-end job (or are out of work!).
Now let’s look at what happens if you use a more optimistic explanation for what happened. You feel bad, of course, but soon you start telling yourself things like “I’ve been worrying about Mom’s health lately, so I probably wasn’t as focused as I could have been,” or “This project was really rushed and I just didn’t have time to do it right,” or “I really didn’t understand what my role was and so I screwed it up.” With explanations like that, you shake off the pain of the moment and start making plans to do better next time, tell your boss what you need to fix the situation, or find a new job that is a better fit for you. You don’t feel helpless for long, and you have the energy you need to take action to succeed.
So the optimists go on to clear things up with their bosses, do better on the next project, learn new skills, apply for that interesting job, and get promoted. The pessimists sit back and tell themselves there’s no point, so those positive career moves elude them. Another way of saying this is that the optimist persists in the face of challenges; the pessimist doesn’t. This means that pessimists fail more often, even when they could have succeeded.
You can see how an optimistic style could also propel a small business owner beyond her more pessimistic competitor. Say they both lose an important customer. Ms. Optimist thinks “I didn’t give him enough attention over the past month,” or “The local economy took a hit that made it hard for him to buy from me now, but I just have to find a way to hang on until the upswing happens and clients like him can come back,” or “Sometimes I lose one for reasons I can’t control, but what I provide is useful so I can always bring in more customers.”
Compare her motivation and energy level after the loss of her customer to Mr. Pessimist, who says “I’m such a loser,” or “The economy is in the tank and there’s nothing I can do about it.” Ms. O looks for ways to improve what she offers and how she gets the message out to potential customers; Mr. P hunkers down and waits for the ax to fall. Who’s going to succeed?
The Value of Pessimism
This is not to say that pessimism doesn’t have it’s place. There are definitely advantages to using pessimism in certain situations. It would seem that pessimists tend to have a better grasp on reality. Optimists see what could be; pessimists see what is. Therefore, pessimists are by and large more accurate, particularly in situations where there are unexpected and frequent disasters.
Pessimists also tend to be more cautious. While an optimist thinks that things will work out, the pessimist buys insurance just in case. Pessimists save more money for a rainy day. They avoid danger.
So a touch of pessimism belongs in every career and every life at times. The trick is figuring out when to use a pessimistic approach and when to use an optimistic one.
When to Use Optimism versus Pessimism
Here are some guidelines for when to use an optimistic approach and when to be more pessimistic in your work.
In a situation where you want to achieve, like selling, getting a promotion, or being chosen to work on a high profile project.
If you need to keep up your morale, like cold calling or networking.
Where you want to lead or inspire people.
Where creativity is needed.
Where the cost of failure is low, like applying for a job.
If you are planning for a risky or uncertain future.
When counseling others whose future is not rosy, say, in a yearly review with an underperformer.
Where physical safety is at issue.
Where the cost of failure is high.
Let’s look at that last bullet-point more closely, because it is really the crux of your decision. If the cost of failure is high, you should use a pessimistic approach. Seligman gives examples of the pilot deciding whether to de-ice the plane again or the partygoer who needs to decide whether to drive or take a taxi home. Accidents and death are high costs to pay for failure. Choose caution and pessimism in those situations.
There are many situations where the costs of failure may feel high, but in fact are quite low. Consider the salesman who has to decide whether to make another call where he may be rejected; the independent professional who is considering offering a new service; the executive who has hit a ceiling at her current employer who is thinking about using (or building) her network to look for a new position. While rejection feels bad, it doesn’t really kill you. For that reason, all of the people in these and similar situations should choose an optimistic approach.
Seligman also lists jobs that require an optimistic approach and those that need a more pessimistic one. Here they are. Only optimists need apply for:
Presenting and Acting
Highly competitive jobs
Mild pessimists, or cautious types with a keen sense of reality, do well in “‘low-defeat jobs, jobs with low turnover, jobs that call for specific technical skills in low-pressure settings.” Seligman’s examples are:
Design and safety engineering
Technical and cost estimating
Financial control and accounting
Law (but not litigation)
Personnel and industrial-relations management.
Of course, even a job that calls for a realistic approach will have times where an optimistic approach is called for. Think of an accountant. He needs to be a realist with the numbers but use a positive approach when motivating his team. Or when he needs to bring in new clients. So even if your career falls squarely into the pessimist camp, realize that there are times to be optimistic. Flexibility will be your friend.
Here’s the best news of all. You don’t have to be born an optimist to get the benefits of an optimistic approach. You can learn how to use an optimistic explanatory style, then apply it whenever you choose.
In my next article I’ll detail the elements that go into an optimistic explanatory style. It’s not just putting on rose-colored glasses! There are three specific ways of looking at events, particularly negative events, that help you move forward with energy and motivation. Next week I’ll explain what those three ways are. After that I’ll show you Seligman’s specific techniques for changing a pessimistic explanatory style to an optimistic style.
Nancy Linnerooth has been helping professionals, executives and business owners for well over a decade to get rid of their internal blocks so they can meet their career and business goals.
These internal blocks often show up as repeating patterns of behavior that undercut what they’re trying to accomplish, like procrastinating; avoiding public speaking, cold calling and networking; choking in interviews; and becoming overwhelmed and losing focus.
Nancy comes to the world of coaching with a diverse background as a practicing psychotherapist of many years and a recovering attorney who got her JD from Harvard Law School. So she understands the demands of working in a high-pressured, high-stakes world.
Perfectionism is a block many people have that masquerades as a positive attribute. We often think that the drive to be perfect in what we do and who we are pushes us to achieve more in our work. It does, to a certain extent. More often, though, it slows us down or even keeps us from starting something that has the potential to really propel us forward. Let me give you two examples of what this block can look like.
The Professional Perfectionist
There is a particular breed of independent professional who never seems to be satisfied with their abilities. They are always getting one more training, learning one more technique, acquiring one more string of letters to put behind their name. I support being a lifelong learner and seeking more knowledge in our professions when done for the right reasons. But consider one perfectionist professional, let’s call him Carl, who isn’t using the pursuit of knowledge to improve his work, he is using it to hide from his work.
Instead of bringing what he already has into the world to help people, Carl holds himself back with thoughts that he isn’t ready. He not only delays things like marketing to prospective clients and referrers, he even avoids printing up business cards and talks down his own abilities to friends and acquaintances. He keeps telling himself things like, “I’m not good enough yet. I’ll just get one more certification. Then I’ll be good enough at what I do to offer it to people.” But since he always sees one more something-or-other that he can learn, he keeps his availability under wraps. His business just limps along with too few clients. And people Carl could help go elsewhere, or do without.
The Corporate Perfectionist
Perfectionism blocks people in the corporate world, too. A client I’ve been working with recently, “Jen,” would go into a tailspin whenever anything went wrong—if her code broke, the boss told her to change something she had been working on, or a co-worker was recognized for his work when she was not. Any time her work was less than perfect, or even just less impressive in some respect than a colleague’s, she would tell herself “I’m not good enough,” and her work would suffer because of it. For several days she would go into a funk, not just feeling down but unable to think clearly and get her work done.
That message, “I’m not good enough,” is what I call an emotional belief. It is a statement that we can argue with logically, and even know in our heads to be wrong, but deep down it just feels true. It turns out that Jen’s emotional belief came from growing up with a father who taught her that everything she did had to be done absolutely correctly or it was a failure. Getting 97% on an exam was not enough. Why did she get that one question wrong? She worked very hard to get his approval, which was always out of reach. That drive to be perfect worked for a time. She got great grades, went to impressive schools, and got a good job, but ultimately it held her back.
Jen and I have been working, memory by memory, on defusing the times her father’s disapproval trained her to believe “I’m not good enough.” As each memory loses its punch. Jen finds she can bounce back from things that go wrong that much quicker. What used to take her days to recover from now takes a few hours or less. This is a huge improvement, and it shows not just in her mood but in her work, too.
A Quick Test: Are You A Perfectionist?
High achievers often have a touch of perfectionism in them. It pushes them to do better than others. But when it becomes a block, it can seem insurmountable. Look around at your own life. Do you have any examples of acting like Carl or Jen? Do you put off moving on an opportunity because “other people are better than me” or “I’m not ready yet,” even though what you have to offer right now is valuable and would help people? Do you beat yourself up (metaphorically speaking) whenever things don’t go exactly the way you imagined they should?
Here’s a quick way to determine if you have a perfectionism block. Say out loud “I’m not good enough.” How true did that feel to you emotionally on a scale of 0 to 100 percent? If your number is anything greater than 0, you could benefit from making a deceptively simple change.
Your Quick Escape from the Perfectionist Trap
Whenever you notice that you are holding yourself to a standard of perfection—whether you are putting off something that you know you could do now because you don’t feel ready, or you are feeling bad because you have not done something quite as well as you hoped—think to yourself “It’s good enough.” For added punch, say it out loud. If you actually catch yourself thinking something like “I’m not good enough,” then think or say “I am good enough.”
You may have to say it several times if your feelings drown the statement out. And you will have to keep changing your negative message to the positive one for some time to come, probably months, to break the old habit of perfectionism.
At first, you won’t notice much change. In fact, you’ll probably notice that you “talk back” to yourself, thinking things like “Still, I could have done it better” or “But I don’t have the training that so-and-so has” or even simply a sarcastic “Yeah, right.”
Keep going. Say it again. “It’s good enough, and I’m good enough.”
This is so simple it might seem too good to be true, but it works—if you stick with it—by challenging your negative mindset and re-writing a new message. (If your belief that you’re not good enough doesn’t budge after you’ve been challenging it for a while, it’s probably time to see a coach.)
Each time you remind yourself that you are good enough you will be taking a step forward on the road to changing the old message that has been holding you back. You will start to notice that it gets easier to bounce back from mistakes and take chances. And when finally you no longer hold yourself back by demanding perfection, you will discover that your “good enough” takes you very, very far indeed!
One of my clients, “Angie,” is making an important presentation this week. It’s high profile, and she would like to impress a number of higher-ups in her company who are attending. This is a great opportunity, and it comes with a lot of stress. Now I know Angie. She will come through this experience with flying colors, presenting her information in a clear way, fielding all the questions with ease, displaying her knowledge and ability beautifully. She thrives in high-stakes situations.
Compare her experience with that of another client I spoke to this week. “Barbara” told me about a high-pressure opportunity she had two years ago to show what she could do. She took the LSAT, the test would-be lawyers take before applying to law schools. She’s smart, motivated and really will be a good lawyer in time. But when she took that test she was too stressed to demonstrate any of that well, and her score showed it.
Do you stress-out preparing for important events? Don’t. Do the opposite.
What do you do right before an important “performance?”
Do you pore over all your notes just before stepping up to the podium? In the car on the way to the sales presentation do you rehash all the possible objections your potential customer may have and how you can respond to them? Do you reread the interviewer’s LinkedIn bio for the twentieth time while waiting for the receptionist to take your name? If so, you may be shooting yourself in the foot.
If you want to do your best in a high-stakes situation, the worst thing you can do is get yourself stressed. Don’t get me wrong, you have to do your prep work. Practice your powerpoint presentation. Learn the answers to customers’ objections. Research the company you are interviewing with. But do those things before the day of the event. When you cram the day of you increase your stress level. As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, the more stressed you are the less of your brain you can access. So cramming right before an important event, whatever that event is, will actually lower your performance.
So how do you get yourself in the right mindset to succeed? Just follow the immortal advice of Bobby McFerrin: Don’t worry, be happy. I mean it. If you aren’t happy already, get yourself there. When you are happy, you actually have access to more of your brain so you can think faster, be more creative, keep focused — everything you want and need in a high-pressure situation. So when going into such a situation, it’s in your own best interest to be happy.
How do you do this? Coming right up—but I couldn’t resist linking to the video, first.
How can you “get happy” when you want to?
It doesn’t have to be hard to do this. There are a lot of different ways that can work. One simple way to get happy is to think about one of the best moments of your life. Really try to relive it. Think about what it looked like — the colors, the light, the expressions on everyone’s face. Remember the sounds and how it felt physically. Go through all the senses, bringing up as much detail as you can. Take your time. The more detail you call up, the more you will be able to really feel the happiness you felt at the time.
Music is also a great way to bring up certain emotions. So listen to music that makes you want to dance. Heck, actually dance if that makes you happy. (Okay, don’t do either of those things in your office if they will get you fired.) I know people who swear that meditating raises their mood. For others, it’s looking at a baby picture of their kid. Still others go for a walk in the park. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as whatever you do gets you feeling good.
Let me be a bit clearer. When I say do whatever works to feel happier this is not license to take drugs or alcohol. Remember, your goal is to access more of your brain. Drugs and alcohol have the opposite effect. Instead, I’m encouraging you to use natural ways to improve your mood. Think of what usually puts a smile on your face. Maybe it’s remembering swimming with your best friend in fifth grade, or planning a dream vacation, or watching old clips of the Marx Brothers. Give yourself some time to really think about this. Then pick one that you know really works for you.
You will need to schedule time right before the event to do whatever it is you’ve chosen to feel happier. The activity doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Thinking of the happiest day of your life could take less than a minute. Just be sure you don’t get yourself stressed out trying to take a ten-minute walk in the park if you only have three minutes. That would undo all the good you are trying to achieve.
Can’t get happy? You might have some unlearning to do.
I realize that some issues can’t be fixed with this quick tip. For example, problems like fear of public speaking will need more work to root them out. Barbara believed that she couldn’t take tests well. I know she can—once we break the old connection she has in her mind between taking tests and stressing out. So we’ve scheduled some time to “unlearn” that belief and get rid of the stress she feels around retaking the LSAT. Then she’ll be ready to take that exam again. And this time, she’ll get happy before walking into the testing center so she can really show them what she’s got.
Of course, if you’re like Barbara and have something big holding you back, you’ll want to work on it to level your own playing field. But for every other high-pressure event you have, just remember to get happy. Your performance will peak, and maybe you’ll get that promotion, or sale, or recognition that you’re ready for.
While you are going through your workday, how do you think about yourself? Do you think things like “Yes! I am so good at this. I’ve really got what it takes to succeed here!” Or is it more like “Who am I kidding? How did I ever think I could pull this off?!” Let’s really test this. Think of the last time you made a mistake. What did you think then: “Loser?” “Idiot?” “I always screw things up?” “I’m just not good enough?”
Most of us seem to have some of those kinds of negative thoughts about ourselves come up, especially when things aren’t going our way or we’ve made a mistake. When I talk to clients about their negative self-talk, they usually think that it’s a good motivator, pushing them to work harder, fix what they’ve been doing wrong, or just get it right the next time. At the very least, they think the negative messages they give themselves are harmless. They are wrong.
The truth is these kinds of messages are damaging. They will slow you down, demotivate you and limit your creativity. I’ve seen them be completely debilitating, leading clients to essentially give up. It’s as if they’ve mentally thrown up their hands and said “Why bother. If I’m such a loser, I might as well not try.”
What can you do if you have one of these negative messages blocking you? I use two different techniques. The first works quite fast but you would need to learn to use a strange-looking technique. The second will take a commitment on your part to follow through with it, but you can start it right now with just paper and pen.
1. Using EFT (“tapping”) to eliminate negative self talk
When a client comes to me with a prominent and persistent negative statement, it tells me that they’ve learned over time to believe something unhelpful about themselves and it’s become a significant block for them. In these situations I will often use a strange looking but surprisingly effective interactive relaxation and refocusing technique called EFT which helps them “unlearn” negative beliefs. I use this technique because I’ve found that it is the fastest way for my clients to let go of those negative statements. When my clients stop using their negative statements all the time, those statements stop doing damage to their motivation, focus, and ambition. They can think about their present situation and options, and even mistakes they make, in a much more objective way.
It works like this: I lead my clients in a guided conversation in which we review the evidence they have for their negative emotional beliefs, while—and this is the strange looking part—they tap with two fingers on a series of acupressure points on their own hands, head and torso. I tap on myself at the same time while guiding the conversations about their beliefs. If you want to see what EFT looks like in practice, you can check out my article about “tapping down” stress.
Let me break out this technique for you with a little more detail. First I ask my client to repeat out loud the negative statement they’ve been thinking about themselves. Then I ask them to tell me, on a scale of 0 to 100%, how true their statement feels (not how true they think the statement is, but how true it feels). Next we begin a few short rounds of tapping—I show them where to tap, but they do their own tapping—while talking about an event that led to their negative emotional belief. When this process is complete I ask them to tell me again, on a scale of 0 to 100%, how true their statement still feels. Very often, after we have tapped and talked about the first event they offered as evidence for their emotional belief, their negative statement comes down from feeling 70% true, or higher, to zero. We’ve relaxed and refocused that negative belief right out of existence just with a little tapping and talking. And we can get back to business.
However, if after some tapping and talking we find that the self-defeating emotional belief is still at work, at least in part, this may mean there are more events underpinning that belief that we can talk and tap about. Often another event, or a different negative statement, occurs to the client after the first one has been minimized. In either case we do another round of tapping and talking, which takes care of the new statement or event the same way. So you can see that this works faster for some folks than for others, but it brings improvement for just about everyone relatively quickly.
You can use EFT all by yourself to eliminate your own negative statements—I teach clients how to do this, as a matter of fact—but the guided conversation part takes a bit of training and practice so you may want to get help with it. Even EFT practitioners such as myself will often turn to another practitioner to help them get rid of an emotional belief. It can be difficult to see something that you’ve lived with for a long time in a new way that allows you to get rid of it.
2. Using your own evidence to eliminate negative self talk
Of course, I know that learning do-it-yourself EFT is not on most people’s To Do lists. If that’s you, there is an alternative way to get rid of your negative self-talk. It will take longer, but all you’ll need is paper and pen.
Draw a line down the center of a piece of paper. On the left-hand side of the paper near the top, write down the negative statement you use most often. Next, in the right-hand column write down all the evidence that your negative statement is not true. Evidence can come from any time in your life. Individual pieces of evidence can be minor by themselves. The point is that each thing you write down puts the lie to that negative statement you’ve been telling yourself.
Let’s say you wrote down the negative statement “I’m such an idiot.” You would write down everything that’s ever happened that proves that you are not an idiot. You might start with things from your youth like: “I got a lot of Bs and some As in junior high and high school;” “My art teacher told me I had a good grasp of perspective;” or “I memorized the entire opening to He-Man!” Don’t stop with school. Try things from work: “My first boss said I was a quick study when we put everything into an online format;” “I’ve been hired for four different positions that took a fair amount of brainpower;” or “I was picked to create a new process in my last job that led to our department using one-third less time to get the data out.” Don’t forget other areas of your life: “I was asked to lead the fundraising auction for the kids’ school;” “My brother always wants me to look over his taxes;” and “I was able to explain the basic idea of String Theory to my friends over dinner last month.” Don’t stop at three. You should put down at least ten things on the right side of the paper. The more the merrier—or more powerful
Once you have a fair amount of evidence on the right hand side of the page, it’s time to change the negative statement. On the left hand side of the page, near the bottom, write down a positive statement that you can use instead of the negative statement. By positive, I don’t mean Pollyanna, like “Everything always works out perfectly for me.” What you want is something that is stated in positive terms. So instead of writing “I’m not an idiot,” you might write something like “I’m smart enough to figure things out.”
Make sure your positive statement is supported by the evidence. That way, if you catch yourself rolling your eyes when you say the new positive statement, you can pull out the piece of paper, read the evidence (yes, all of it), go back and say the new statement knowing that it is true. So don’t use “I’m the next Einstein” unless you really are.
There will undoubtedly be a number of positive statements that could fit your evidence. You might want to write down several, then pick the one that seems the most powerful to you. Circle that one. That’s the new statement you are going to replace the old negative one with.
Here’s where the real work comes in. From now on, every time you say that old negative statement to yourself (“I’m an idiot”), you need to stop yourself and say instead the new positive statement (“I’m smart enough to figure things out”). Yes, every time. What you are trying to do is change an ingrained habit. To do that you need to replace the old habit with a new one. If you occasionally let the old habit slip by, you are reinforcing it and the whole process will take longer.
How long does this take? Well, research says that changing an old habit takes around two to three months of actually doing the new activity (here, that means saying the positive statement instead of the negative one). I know, I know. That sounds like a very long time. But think about it. You’ve been saying the negative statement to yourself for how long now? Years, maybe? A few months is small sacrifice to reap the benefits of getting it out of your head.
Plus, you will start to notice improvements much sooner than two months if you put this plan into place. The old statement will come up less and less. You will have more energy for what you need to do since that old statement won’t be bringing you down. You’ll be able to think more clearly, get more creative. After a while (say, two to three months) you will notice that you haven’t said that negative statement in over a week. Soon after that you will stop thinking about it at all. In a year or two you’ll find that old piece of paper when cleaning out your desk drawer and realize that you just don’t think that negative thought anymore. Congratulations! You’re done with it, and can throw out the paper.
You will want to change all the negative thoughts you have for the reasons I’ve mentioned above. Here’s one more word of advice about that: don’t try to do them all at once. For one thing, actually writing down a lot of negative statements about yourself is likely to bring you down. In addition, it can be overwhelming trying to change everything at once—so much so that you might give up before you make any headway. That would be a shame since you will get a great benefit from changing even one negative statement.
So work on one, get rid of it completely, then pick the next one. Each negative statement you work on should be easier to change than the last one. And you’ll be amazed at what a difference that makes in your work.