You are not your thoughts! Easy strategy to stop the self negative talk

In this video I share an easy but very powerful strategy to stop the negative self talk that pops up when we think about a meeting, presentation, interview or pitch that we did or we are about to do. This mindfulness strategy called diffusion will help you to gain some space and distance from your negative thoughts and, with practice, replace them with more positive thoughts that support you in achieving your goals and getting close to what you value. I hope you find it helpful.

 

 

Untangling

I like listening to podcasts when I am out and about with my ten month old daughter. She lays in the pram having a nap or just enjoying herself and I listen to all kind of podcasts, from Corporate Finance (I got a great grade in my MBA finance final exam thanks to a wonderful podcast), to Parenting, Psychology of Eating, History of  Greek Philosophy, Coaching, Entrepreneur stories or Eastern Philosophies. It’s a great way to learn, explore topics I don’t have any prior knowledge on and, on blue days, to keep myself motivated and grateful. But, to the point: as I usually have one hand busy (carrying the baby and her stuff or pushing the pram) I never have time to store the headset properly. So every time I pull it out of the bag to connect it to my phone, the cables are more and more tangled. I do my best to put them in my ears, even if the cable is full of knots and the sounds is not great. I don’t have free hands, not even the free time, to stop and untangle it. If I stop the pram, the baby will cry, and that’s uncomfortable. For both of us. So I keep pushing it and keep using them until it is so tangled up, the ends don’t reach my ears. Then I have to stop and spend more than five minutes untangling the whole thing. The baby cries. I get nervous. Most of the time, I give up and try to remember to do it when I get home.

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This experience of mine is a good metaphor of two behaviours we engage in quite frequently: we don’t deal with something until it gets really bad and we let other people’s needs to come before ours. Both behaviours can go hand in hand or on their own. I am sure you have seen these behaviours in many forms.

With the people I work and talk, these issues keep coming up. We are busy, we have limited time outside work, family/social commitments and household chores. So the limited amount that is left to take care of the people we love and ourselves is quite small, and our loved ones tend to get the first place. So we don’t have time to deal with our own stuff. To untangle. To unpack. To reflect, to check in, to take the mind for a walk, to leave us the space to think about what we want. To enjoy our own company or to deal with something that is bothering us.

This of course also apply to business owners and entrepreneurs: how many times the operational stuff, the admin craziness, the useless meetings take valuable time to plan, to strategize, to design, to talk to your end costumer, to have a relaxing talk with your business partner or to connect with your employees?

So how to untangle a little bit every day, so you don’t find yourself with a big mess that drains your energy? This is what I try to do on ongoing basis, at personal and professional level:

  • Schedule CONNECTION time the day before: let’s be honest, you are not going to find yourself with free time if you don’t put an active effort in making it happen. Routine and status quo will take over. So before going to bed think where you can fit your CONNECTION time for the next day
  • But what CONNECTION time means? CONNECTION time for me means an opportunity to check in and think and feel something that I need. It could be a business opportunity, an uncomfortable feeling I don’t know where is coming from, or something more basic and mundane…I try to set up a space where I can feel comfortable and not being disturbed (=my en suite), and have things to support me like a note pad, a candle or a nice herbal tea. As much as I can I try to do this while walking, as the movement keeps me focused. Try not to tell yourself you need to do research about the business opportunity or you’ll be on your laptop checking FB before you know it. You can always do that later. Now, give you that space to think and be on your own. Just a quick note: connection time is not meditation. When you are connecting you are following and engaging with your thoughts and feelings. Buddhists call our mind the monkey mind. So make sure you let the monkey have a play everyday or it will keep bothering you (waking you up at night for example).flowers-photography-wallpaper-creative-commons-Favim.com-2813818.jpg
  • Start small: being with yourself and a notepad can sound too corny or too overwhelming or boring. I get it. I have been running away from myself for years, so I understand that ME time can be terrifying. I would suggest to give yourself a time frame that you feel comfortable with and take it from there.  It can be two minutes. Soft music as background noise helps to deal with the intimidation. If you need to talk to someone to think better, as the conversation helps you to organize your thoughts, you can talk to the video camera of your phone or laptop. It’s like self-Skyping without the mess of unstable internet connection.
  • Connect with yourself through others and with others: I do this with my three year old son, but it can be done with however you feel safe. When I put him to sleep we go over what we have done during the day. Not just facts, but also things we have thought and feel. I explained to him how I felt about things he did and do some reflective listening on how I think he felt. I think this is a good thing for his emotional intelligence. And then I briefly explain to him the things I am grateful for. This gives me lot of peace, grounding and perspective, and helps me to be more focused and to prioritise better. And it helps him to fall soundly asleep.

If still you don’t know where to start from, is always good to talk to someone with expertise on the matter. So as much as you can, reach out for professional help to support you in navigating any difficult issue.

 

 

How do you know what do you want?

In my coaching practice and in my private life I see lots of people (especially women) facing this situation. After taking a career break, having kids or when changing careers, they are usually told: just do what you want!!

Following your passion and your dream it’s a double edged sword: it’s a gift and a privilege if you know what you want, but it can be very disempowering and overwhelming if you are lost. 

When we have our conversations, I avoid asking about passions, dreams or call  unless they bring it forward and I can see there is a deep self understanding and a level of articulation around it.

Not being able to answer the question usually triggers lots of negative feelings: people think they are lazy, they don’t know themselves, they don’t have a call, they are not special or particularly good at anything…all these feelings go against their own ability to be introspective and to internally motivate themselves, both elements key to understand what you want and be able to pursue it. 

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So, what to do instead? what to ask to help someone to find their path if they haven’t tapped yet in their true motivation? The following steps are suitable both for entrepreneurs that are unsure about whether to take the leap or not and for career and/ personal changes:

  • Give yourself time: change is messy and has lots of consequences for you personally and the people around you. it brings a range of emotions, from discomfort, to worry, euphoria, excitement…one day you believe you can conquer the world, one day you don’t trust yourself. It is the nature of change to be very unsettling, so if you are deciding to launch a venture or to change jobs,  try to persevere regardless of the initial second guessing and mood swings. Anxiety Slayers have a beautiful podcast about the four stations of change: discomfort, introspection, exploration and celebration.
  • Show compassion for yourself and your context: your situation NOW is unique. Try to avoid as much as you can to compare with other people’s journeys and successes. When I was doing my MBA it was very hard for me not to compare with other students’ performance and career movements. But I had a toddler, a baby, I was moving inter-estate and was working part time. My situation was unique and based on what I had going on I did the best I can. Support yourself with kindness and compassion and if you start beating yourself up, don’t engage and stop that voice. It takes practise, but it is easier than you think. Just don’t allow your mind to be a bully to yourself. After all, you don’t do it with anyone else, so just include you in the list of people you treat nicely and with respect.
  • Don’t buy the idea that we all have just one dream or job we are born for:  Emily Wapnick talks beautifully about the idea of having different calls, passions and dreams and to follow all of them. She calls us multipotentialities. Check her website out to get a better understanding of what she means and most importantly, to shake off the guilt of not knowing what you want to be since you were 5.
  • Brainstorm with yourself and hold the judgement: brainstorming is a well known process to generate ideas, in business and in your personal life. So follow the rules to make sure you have a productive session and come up with wild ideas. And as the Greek Epicurean and Stoic Philosophers recommended, try hold your judgement. Focus on letting the process flow without discarding ideas too early. Allow yourself to think it through without telling yourself “this is stupid/silly/impossible to monetize/what my mum would think” or sorts.eb9a2921f8b5df36e09f30e15519c0e1
  • Share it slowly and safely: as much as you want to shout out your new truth, I always recommend it to tip toe a little first. Either with a new venture, project or career move, it is safer to get exposed gradually, when you are vulnerable and quite green. In business, we have incubators to support early stage ventures. A safe space when they can grow before facing the wild world. Apply the incubator metaphor: share your change with people you feel safe with first, get their feedback, go inwards, pivot, digest, evolve and go out again to tell more people. 
  • You will never be 100% sure, so give it a go: but I have so many questions/doubts/uncertainty!! that means you are in the right place to start. No one knows 100% if  their change will work out...the only way to guarantee 100% failure is by letting those questions and fears to stop you rather than help you to move forward. After all, you want to know the answers to those questions right? A tip to navigate this step better is to not engage in what if? thoughts.
  • Prioritize: starting a venture or changing career, requires lots of emotional and physical energy, as well as tangible resources. So if you are facing an important transition put it on top of your list and if possible delay other big personal and professional changes such as getting pregnant, moving country or house, taking on other big project at work, getting too active in your social life. Sounds obvious, but our mind will try to get out of the discomfort of having to deal with the change by immersing itself in other business to avoid the work. That’s completely normal, we humans avoid suffering and seek pleasure, so nothing wrong with it.  Just be aware of it and gently bring yourself back to work. If you feel stuck, take care of your mind and body with meditation, journaling, mindful walks or enjoyable exercise. As much as you can try to avoid entertaining yourself with other projects unrelated with what you have at hand.

This process is hard and can be overwhelming. Coaching and mentoring can make a difference to hold you accountable, helping you to identify the next right thing and supporting you along the way. As much as you can, try to invest in this type of help to guide you and walk with you through your transition.

Fly but not too high: protecting you from being capable

I listen to someone last week talking about four types of personalities we all surround ourselves with: people that support us unconditionally to pursue our dreams, people that are neutral to us, don’t care/don’t bother type, people that love us but bring us down and people that don’t like us for different reasons and try to hurt us or hold us back. When I think about this categories, people come to mind very easily: my husband, my mum, my former boss.

I found very interesting the type of people that love you but because over-protection, jealousy, fear…they don’t like you to fly too high. They like you to be independent, they like you to be happy…but they can’t stand that you suffer, or leave your comfort zone or struggle. I think it is a very human feeling to try to spare the pain of people we love, but at the same time, feeling uncomfortable and leaving the comfort zone are the only ways to grow and expand our horizons.

Mums seem to frequent this category. The love us soo much they want to make sure nothing bad happens to us. It happens with my mum all the time. When I told her I was going to enrol in an MBA program (I had a 18 month old baby and pregnant with my daughter and was living in Sydney with my husband) she freaked out. Her first reaction was: your are not going to be able to do everything! you are gonna get sick! As Always with her, my first reaction was trying to calm her down, saying that all will be fine, that I will manage. But that’s not what she needed to hear, neither I wanted to be listening to her projected fears. I wanted to hear: wow, you are so brave. I know you can do it  even if it’s hard, and I will be here to support you and help you if you need. By the way, that’s what she always does. She supports us and helps us, but from a place of fear and mum-coming-to-the-rescue, more than in a positive way.

Of course, I understand where she’s coming from. She finished her bachelor when my two sisters that are 11 months apart, where four and five. She had no support and no one really advocated for her and told her how brave and strong she was to do so. She was just judged by other people and felt isolated. My grandma told her “a madam doesn’t work”, which is funny because then my father lost the job and my mum was the one supporting the family for a while.

Because of her fearful reactions I started to stop telling her about the new challenges I was embarking on. I wanted to share them with her, but last thing I needed was her telling me all the possible catastrophic scenarios and negative outcomes.

I truly believe that the way parents talk to us become our inner voice, and for me, that voice telling me that you are not capable, has been the root of many of my insecurities and lack of self worth. Didn’t matter how many things I accomplished because I thought that I was not capable of doing them, so I tended to sabotage myself a lot. When I dropped an English course that she paid for because it was from 7 to 10 pm two days a week, she almost praised me for it, rather than telling me to persevere. So even if in many different context she showed me her appreciation and never actively told me that I was wasn’t worth it, she never told me the opposite either.

For me the way to deal with it is as follows:

1- Empathy: I understand where she comes from and the lack of support and advocacy she had for herself. I understand that she feels she worth nothing so it is hard for her to teach other people to do so. Even if she does in theory, as kids model after their parents, her actions taught me that if she wasn’t worth it, neither was I . So, keeping in mind that she doesn’t know any other way to it and she is not even aware of it .

2- Break the silence and raise awareness: I force myself to tell her my challenges and listen to what she has to say. I ask her: why are you scared? I noticed that you are freaking out about this thing I just told you… you seem scared about this…….what do you think that would happen?…open questions like this so she feel understood. Also by saying things out loud, her stress levels come down and she calms down and see my challenge from my point of view and my context, rather than from hers. Also by saying things like “you look very scared about this” I state for her and myself that is her fear not mine, that is how she sees not how I see it, and most importantly, not how actually it is. 

3- Replace her voice with my voice: her thoughts and fears affect me in a deep way and can make me feel that I actually can’t. So after I tell her my challenge and listen to her concerns, I tend to leave it there. I don’t defend my position, I don’t try to convince her. I remind to myself I AM CAPABLE OF DOING IT AND HER FEARS ARE NOT MY FEARS ANYMORE.

4- Write to her after few days: Then I move on with my day and usually a day or two later I send her an email or a voice message that goes like this:

 Mum, I understand your concerns about the thing I mentioned yesterday. I know you think it is challenging but that’s what I am doing it. It is important for me, it is a positive thing and I have thought about pros and cons deeply. I am very excited and I appreciate you say you will support me. I will need your encouragement and your kind words, so thanks for being there in a supportive way for me. I will feel very accomplished and proud once I have done, and I will learn a lot along the way. 

I wait a couple of days so her fear is not so overwhelming. I also prefer writing so I have the time to say what I really want to say and her objections don’t make me lose track of my thoughts and jumping to defense mode. When I write I am connected to the point I want to make and I am not carried away by the conversation. I feel more powerful and strong, but because she is not in front of me, I am not trying to control her emotions saying things I don’t believe in. 

Usually she is very grateful of this messages, as she also needs time to process and digest the information. she is able to think about her fears and come back to me in a more positive way that I really appreciate.

I would love to listen to your experiences with these type of personalities and how you deal with them!