What stands between you and your career best, your entrepreneurial dream, your retirement home in the islands?
Is it the person you report to or the loan officer at the bank?
Perhaps it’s those colleagues who just can’t seem to put in a good word for you when you most need it, or the distraction of continual demands from family members?
Often, your adversary is closer than you think. Often, it is someone very familiar. Often, it is you. To be specific, it is the negative and fear-based thoughts, emotions and resulting behaviors that come from you.
An experience I had several years ago provides a metaphorical analogy. My husband and I had gone to dinner at a popular restaurant in a touristy section of Chicago. After dinner, we walked to our car to head home. As we approached our car, which was parked on the street, we noticed a very strong, almost nauseating smell. We immediately figured that someone had placed something on our car as a prank, or some animal had used our car as a pit stop. We checked the tires, the front and back of the car, but couldn’t identify where the odor was coming from. Since nothing was visible, we got inside the car and drove off. Inside of the car we noticed that the smell was even stronger. I looked in the back seat, under the seat, but still couldn’t find anything. We checked the bottom of our shoes. Had we stepped in something?
Finally, after several minutes of conversation, it dawned on us that the pungent aroma we were both noticing was the oysters Rockefeller that had lingered on our breaths after dinner. The culprit was right under our noses!
This analogy characterizes human nature in that we often look outside of ourselves when things go awry. On closer examination, however, we often discover that we are protagonist and antagonist rolled into one. What gets in the way of our goals and aspirations is often the negative emotions, thoughts, and ongoing, uncensored monologue taking place within our heads. All this leads, all too easily, to doubt, procrastination, self-pity and fear of failing. This evil twin of ours comes out, particularly, when we are trying to embark upon a change in our lives.
Kally Reynolds, life coach and president of Renaissance Journeys, has a straightforward explanation for how he has been able to experience phenomenal growth in his career. “I guess it’s because I never make a case against myself,” he says. “ We’re all too quick to make a case against ourselves.” No need to do that, he adds: “The world will do it for us.”
Reynolds suggests that the evil twin undermining us is often a scared little girl or boy inside who does not want to get hurt again and withdraws out of fear of ridicule, not measuring up, or other humiliations.
Yet our opinions of ourselves are so frequently lower than the perceptions others have of us. We may have a poor opinion of our capabilities and potential, though this may not be picked up immediately on the radar of our colleagues and associates. Sooner or later, however, if we continue to think in this way, it will be projected outwards and become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Others will see us as we see ourselves.
Turning off the Life Support and Creating New Thought Patterns
In order to maximize progress toward your career goals or – any goal, for that matter – and move past fear and self doubt, you must commit to quieting the troubled voice within. Les Brown, the motivational speaker, often says, “If you want to keep getting [out of life] what you are getting, keep doing what you’re doing.” One can take this a step further to “keep thinking what you’re thinking.”
While you may be excited about pursuing a dream, you may also feel a bit anxious and worried. The voices inside of your head can be your worst critics in your pursuit of new horizons. These voices and the strong emotions that accompany them awaken you in the middle of the night, shouting out that the odds are against you, demanding that you work out every possible scenario before making a move — and they keep you up all night! How do you turn them off?
Is it possible to just stop thinking? This is easier said than done! Given that nature abhors and rushes to fill a vacuum, you will need to replace old, negative thoughts with new, constructive ones. Beware: your old familiar thoughts will be kicking and screaming louder than ever, once they find out you don’t want to nurture them anymore.
Many individuals find it helpful to silently repeat affirmations of what they want. When negative thoughts creep in — “I’m too old/too young/ not connected enough to take on this venture,” for example – simply switch them over to positive thoughts: “I have life experience to bring to the table/fresh ideas/willingness to network with others.”
Others things you can do to internalize and sustain positive messages include seeking out and learning about success stories of individuals who have made their way, particularly when the odds were against them. This helps to reinforce new thought patterns that say, “It’s possible. Conditions outside of me don’t have to be perfect. I can do this!”
Research suggests that it takes 21 to 30 days to form a new habit. The three R’s – repetition, reinforcement and reward — will help you build and sustain new thought patterns and, subsequently, new behaviors.
Eyes on the Prize
Keep your thoughts focused on what you want to achieve and create a mental and physical environment that helps to reinforce these thoughts. It helps to create a clear picture of what you think success will look like. What is your goal? Picture it, verbalize it, feel how it would feel to reach it. Who’s in the picture with you? Who is not? Bring this image to mind every day and refine it.
To bring your new thoughts to life, put them in writing. Write a contract or statement of intention: I intend to ________ (fill in your goal) by (fill in the date). Then establish milestones: a month out, three months, six months, one year, three years. Then return to the present moment and create an action plan to clarify how you will execute and what resources you will use. Keep your plan simple enough so that it is not overwhelming; that can lead you to take no action at all.
Where can you get the most bang for your buck?
Start by asking yourself three questions:
- What are the one or two things I need to start doing?
- What are the one or two things I need to stop doing?
- What are things I need to continue doing?
The things you need to continue doing will be the easiest and take the least energy. You already have built-up momentum here. You may experience withdrawal symptoms with the behaviors you are trying to stop and a bit of anxiety with the behaviors you are trying to start. This is where you will need to monitor the internal voices more frequently.
There’s no need to go it alone. Others can help you as you pursue new horizons and work on stilling the evil twin within. Create a change support team or “board of directors.” Identify people who have information that would be helpful, can be supportive in an objective way, have done what you are trying to do, are good listeners, and/or can connect you with others.
Working with a career or life coach gives you a thinking partner. A coach or mentor will provide a safe haven for your concerns, and can be a valuable sounding board for your ideas. Sometimes it simply helps to hear yourself talk through your goals, plans, and concerns with someone else. A coach will be able to listen without judgment and will not be emotionally tied to any particular outcome, as a family member might be. A coach will also challenge you to exhibit new levels of excellence – the gentle push we often need — and will keep you focused on the positive by having you complete various exercises like “list 20 things that you are already fully competent in now.”
Celebrate successes along the way. Don’t wait until the end. Celebrate a day of thinking constructively! How about that? Psychologists, therapists, coaches, and other practitioners all agree that rewards are a critical component to reinforcing new thought patterns and subsequent behaviors. Identify a half-dozen or so rewards that are meaningful to you and easy to access.
Monitoring and managing our internal monologue can go a long way toward building the confidence we need to move into new territory and shape our own success. By nurturing those thoughts that confirm the creative and resourceful capability within us and selecting to surround ourselves as often as possible with others who reinforce this thinking, we can all reach the point where our evil twin turns into our best friend.
Charmon Parker Williams, Ph.D., an industrial psychologist, is a career and talent management consultant, coach, and contributing writer for Diversity MBA Magazine.
Image courtesy of Smarter.com