How much time do you spend – or shall I say ‘waste’ – in your head? I mean listening to your own private thoughts, concerns, and conversations?
We do it mostly when we are troubled, upset or in distress. That’s the time that we need sound advice, guidance, and support. But, that is the time we often go to the wrong and worst place to get it – our own head.
I was coaching an executive who wanted to advance his career and get the promotion he felt he deserved. The executive was generally a passionate and expressive person and leader. But, every time he had opportunities to promote himself, his skills and his accomplishments in front of his peers, boss and other superiors he froze or held back. It was as if he became a different person. When we tried to get to the source of this dynamic I learned that whilst outwardly the executive appeared confident and bold, internally he often doubted and second-guessed himself. When he wasn’t paying attention to his internal noise he behaved as his authentic self. But when he did it was quite a different matter.
Another senior executive I was coaching often lost his temper when he disagreed with peers, especially when they criticized his function. He was a very smart and powerful leader. He knew that his outbursts derailed management team conversations, and hurt his reputation. However, it was hard for him to change his ways because his personal thoughts were telling him that his peers were, in fact, trying to undermine and marginalize his function. His thoughts and feelings were so real and strong that it took a lot of persuasion effort to make him see that maybe they were not true.
Another example, I was supporting a leader who had lost his job four months earlier in a downsizing initiative, after working in that same company for more than 20 years. He hadn’t been able to find a new job, he felt as if that the sky had fallen. He was distraught and it was hard for him to see possibilities beyond his feelings. He said things like: “I will never find another job or company like the one I was fired from,” and “no one will hire me at my age.” He shared with me that at a certain point it was hard for him to get out of bed because he didn’t feel he had something worthwhile to get up for.
I could relate to all three examples from my own life experiences. I have been there in distressed situations when things did not pan out the way I had hoped. At the time, these situations were disappointing, upsetting and even depressing. But, what often made it worst is listening to my personal thoughts and conversations saying things like: “I should have had a more realistic goal”, “How can I show my face in public? ” and “I’ll probably never be able to achieve this dream”.
It is often said that we are our worst critics. And that is true. Our personal thoughts and concerns are often undermining, guilt-driven and very convincing. They seem so real, true and objective, that it is often hard to think beyond them.
However, think about this rationally, if you wanted advice in an important area of your life would you go to someone who doesn’t have your best interest in mind, or would you go to someone you trust, who understands what you want, knows what it takes and is committed to helping you get there? It’s a no-brainer.
Your own private thoughts, concerns, and conversations are often the worst place to get sound and effective advice that will make a difference in helping you reach a new level – especially when you are dealing with upsetting situations. So, stop listening to them!
Because our private ‘thoughts and concerns’ are often like ‘Statler and Waldorf’, the two old men from The Muppet Show, who sit in the balcony seats and make sarcastic comments about everything that goes on in the show. Our personal thoughts and concerns have one main agenda – to keep us in our comfort zone. They don’t want you to stick your neck out too far, take risks or express yourself too passionately. So, when they give you consoling and supportive advice, and you listen and buy it – don’t be mistaken – you pay a hefty price tag of disempowering yourself.
So, what could you do instead?
Find someone who knows you, believes in you, is committed to you, and someone who can see straight – ask them for advice and coaching, and then listen to everything they say – do what they tell you to do, no matter what your personal noise says about it. Yes, you may have to “fake it ’til you make it” at first, but if you stay the course and stay out of your head for long enough, you will start seeing clearly again, and you will start feeling back in the saddle.
So, if you resonate with all this, here are a few other practical tips for staying out of your head:
1. Communicate –When you communicate in an open, honest, courageous and authentic way you can transform your reality, establish deep love and connection, heal ailments and achieve extraordinary accomplishments. Communicating is the opposite, perhaps even contradiction of being in your head. In fact, when you find yourself stuck, communicate how you feel with someone you trust and you will see how quickly you will feel better and return to yourself. Even though most of us know all this – we often tend to avoid communicating in the most critical moments when it is most important and needed to communicate.
2. Journal – Journaling has almost the same impact to communicating. Just instead of speaking to someone else you are emptying all your thoughts onto paper without censorship. I got exposed to journaling more than 20 years ago through Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way” (http://juliacameronlive.com/) I still practice journaling from time to time, especially when I am at a crossroads, need to make an important decision, want to plan the next chapter of my professional or personal life or want to stay centered and clear headed in challenging times. I strongly recommend this practice as a powerful way to stay out of your head and in the real game.
3. Take action – Small actions. One step at a time. Every day say what you will do the next day and do it. You can even write it down or have a partner to hold you to account. At the end of each day acknowledge what you did and what you missed and commit again to the next day of a few clear actions. If you do this you will see that your promises become larger and more meaningful and your achievement rate is higher too.
4. Be around positive and empowering people – Stay around positive and empowering people who always believe in you, give you energy, relate to you as great and never allow you to buy into your internal disempowering thoughts and concerns.