Success requires focused attention and effort. However, sometimes we work as hard as we can, and yet we fail to achieve. When we are in the middle of this rollercoaster experience, it is nearly impossible to see what is getting in our way. One of the most common reasons business owners hire me to be their CEO coach is to lend perspective and insight with this exact issue. In this series, I am sharing my approach to recognizing the barriers to success and the essential elements for building your success engine. [view series overview here]
Before we begin, let me set some clear expectations. This series is not full of new ideas. At one point, the working title was "Back to Basics." I am asking you to take a page out of the professional athlete playbook and perfect the basics.
Evolving and sharpening foundational skills get you to the top of the game and keep you there, so let's begin!
Every good business coach will tell you that language is a powerful window of insight. When I talk to clients, I pay attention to the words people use, their body language, the way they frame situations, what they are not saying, and so much more. Language is the most powerful tool in our leadership arsenal because THINKING shapes our ACTIONS, and language expresses our THINKING.
Here are some examples to help you unpack this idea.
One path to creating different results is to reverse engineer this process. Deconstructing language allows us to deconstruct our autopilot thinking, opening the door to adopt new ways of thinking that create positive results. Here's a personal example.
After my first child was born, I was overwhelmed. As beautiful as having a child in your life is, no one can prepare you for having a human depend upon you 24/7. My husband is an amazing and involved father, and yet there were times when I wanted him to step in and take over the baths, diaper changes, or baby comforting to give me a break. At first, I stayed silent, but this grew into resentment. I found myself thinking of passive-aggressive lobs to throw at him like, "Don't you think I've changed enough diapers today; maybe it's your turn?" Thankfully, I stopped myself and recognized the error in my thinking. It was unfair for me to expect him to read my mind. If I wanted more help, I needed to own it. I owed him the respect of stating my needs clearly and asking for his help - "Hey, I need some time to myself in the evening. Could you help me by taking on more baby care between dinner and bedtime?" By switching my energy from expressing my frustration to taking ownership for expressing my request, I shared my why in a productive way that my husband could hear without feeling defensive and accept without negative baggage.
Social psychology teaches us that language also gives insight into our beliefs. Experiences shape our beliefs. Our beliefs form our bias, an automatic way of viewing the world and responding, which seems entirely rational to us. When our bias activates, the ability to process new information and gain insight eludes us. It is also a time when our behavioral response is automatic. The speed between thought and action is almost instantaneous. Unfortunately, the design of the human brain facilitates the creation of these super-efficient pathways. Deliberate effort to recognize and break these thought patterns is the only way to change them. For more information, I recommend "What Really Drives Your Life? Thoughts, Feeling... Or Wisdom" by Michael Mamas. Here is one of my favorite quotes from this Huffington Post article.
"Wisdom is a process—the process of sorting all this out so that our thoughts and feelings are consistent with our true nature. Wisdom then, is the process of filtering out biases and distortions that arise through conditioning."
Language is more than the words we write or speak out loud. Often the longest-running dialogue in our lives occurs inside our head. Building the skills to recognize when that voice is negative or limiting and pivoting to questions that open possibility is an essential step in building your success engine.
If you live in Louisville and want to learn more about harnessing the power of language, here are a couple of upcoming learning events that may interest you.
Yesterday is one of my favorite days of the month. I belong to the Women In Networking IV group in Louisville, which meets on the third Tuesday each month. I love this diverse group of women owners and leaders. The caring among this group runs deep, and the support given extends beyond business.
Joining this group started me on an unplanned journey. I am a solo practitioner. And I realized a few years ago that I genuinely missed having work colleagues. I tried business networking fourteen years ago when I left my corporate life, and I didn't get it. It felt like the business equivalent of speed dating - everyone trying to make their elevator pitch to as many people as possible before time was up. All of the focus was on telling, not listening. I didn't feel community or connection was present. I quickly disavowed committing my time to this activity.
This WIN IV group is everything I was looking for back then and more. The bonus is the way this positive experience has enabled me to recognize and connect with several other groups of smart, generous, thought-provoking, and inspiring business people. I am so grateful that this one counterpoint to my networking experience has allowed me to attract similar groups into my inner circle of support and generative thinking.
This step that morphed into a conscious choice to seek and grow my business community has been affirmed in several books recently containing this advice.
Surround yourself with people you want to be like, who model what you want to become. Having people who inspire you helps you get to the next level.
As a business owner, I have many competing demands. I've come to realize in the last year that committing time to engage in creating a community of business colleagues fuels my health and well-being. If you are struggling to find the energy you once had for your business, if you are feeling uninspired, if your relationships require more of you than you get in return, then I encourage you to find a business community that nourishes your mind and spirit. Start small. Just commit one hour each month or join an online community on Facebook or LinkedIn.
In Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he emphasized the importance of renewing ourselves (Habit 7, Sharpen The Saw). This wisdom is as poignant today as it was in 1989. So don't just take my word for it. Know that this idea passed through the decades, evolves but doesn't diminish. And remember that that speed dating style business groups are still around, so don't be afraid to ask questions before you invest your time and be prepared to try a few groups before you find the right one for you.
2020 is your year to Claim Your Extraordinary! I hope you'll give this one idea to aid your journey a try. Please comment and share your wisdom about how you are building your business community to support your growth.
If January is the month of optimism and hope expressed in New Year's resolutions, February is the month of commitment (and not just because of Valentine's Day). It is the month when we have to dig deeper. The demands of life are encroaching. Our old patterns of behavior are reasserting themselves, looking for a foothold. Our results may be shaky or slowing, diminishing the fuel of instant gratification. Whatever the goals and resolutions riding on the tides of a new year and a clean slate, the real tests of your dedication and tenacity are on their way if they are not already here.
What is lovely about this moment is that it is a microcosm of our experience anytime we set out on a journey to create something new in our lives. Our thoughts can trap us in familiar loops where we feel in control - we know how to be angry, struggling, content, mediocre, getting by. Stepping out of those loops requires trust in ourselves and the belief that we can create the future we want.
Progress also requires us to forgive ourselves for being imperfect. It requires us to recognize and address the self-imposed limitations that are shaping our thinking and actions. Oprah Winfrey dedicates several chapters in The Path Made Clear (2019) to developing courage and persistence. Here are a few of my favorite passages and ideas on how to reframe your thinking, dig deeper, and overcome the pull to throw in the towel and settle for the ways things are.
"There will always be setbacks. What you are experiencing is a detour. It's not the end of the road. You've got to be prepared to fail up."
I am obsessed with this language - failing up. How freeing and motivating it is to know that even when we fall, we are learning something new that becomes the building block for our next success. Reframing our setbacks as detours, not terminal events in our journey, makes space for a completely different conversation and choice set.
"Well, look what came down the road today. I wonder what this will produce. I wonder what we'll learn from this."
Life is full of imperfections. For many of us, our automatic response is the "Oh Crap" conversation. Life is in constant flow, and we get to control very little of it. That is why this shift from our danger, fear, disaster response to a thoughtful and openness response is extraordinary for our mental well being. When life unfolds differently than we expected or we slip up, seizing that moment with the grace of wonder and learning can be transformative.
"How am I making things more difficult than they need to be?"
Everyone overcomplicates. Many years ago, fluid on my Dad's heart and lungs landed him in the hospital. We live in different states, requiring me to suspend everything in my life in Louisville to be at his side. I was away for a week or more without a thought to my business life. All the busyness and demands of work became silent. When I returned home, I started anew, as picking up where I'd left off was impossible. Realizing the unnecessary importance I'd given to things at work was palpable at that moment. I wanted to hold onto that clarity, and yet I was soon back in the rhythm of the life I knew, where minor things carried the power and weight of the essential.
Simplicity is a practice honed through reflective questions such as this one. When we struggle or lose momentum, it is the perfect opportunity to ask ourselves this question and shift our focus to a simpler path forward.
"The more important the activity you are pursuing is to your evolution as a person, the more resistance you will feel to it."
I close with this reminder that change requires effort. Take heart when struggles emerge and know that they portend meaningful change.
Thank you to all of my loyal readers for your feedback in response to last week's blog, "The Opposite of More is Enough." I am happy that my words resonated with so many of you who like me feel constant pressure in business and in life to participate in the endless game of seeking more.
This week I want to stay with that powerful word, ENOUGH. I offer it to you in a slightly different context - I AM ENOUGH.
Self-doubt and living in the shadow of comparison to others are behaviors we learn in childhood and are as core to our being as our DNA. Many of us wrestle with knowing who we are and naming the essential things that genuinely matter to us. We search outside of ourselves for clarity and affirmation. We become experts at pretending in order to gain the acceptance of others, and it's exhausting. I AM ENOUGH is the invitation to shift your focus inwardly, and trust in your ability to know yourself and to make the right choices.
"When you can really be who you are and find out where you fit in and function from a place of comfort, then you stop working. You stop wrestling." The Path Made Clear, Oprah Winfrey (2019)
In The Path Made Clear Oprah shares excerpts from her interview with Brian Grazer, co-founder of Imagine Entertainment. Brian talks about being in third grade and earning failing grades, which was a big deal to his mother. And yet, in the face of those D's and F's, his grandmother confirmed his specialness and expressed confidence in his future potential.
"She just had this sustained belief in me and validated me for asking questions and for my curiosity. I used this curiosity to meet new people in subjects that I would have never learned anything about. And by meeting these new people, it's given life to movies and television shows that I've done."
Like Brian, your version of success may look different than others around you. Their measures may hold little relevance to your path to success. When we understand our special gifts and uniqueness, when we give them space to grow and shape our lives, we make space for our fullest selves to emerge. And it is in becoming our whole selves that our most significant contributions are possible.
As leaders, the concept that I AM ENOUGH is both personal and institutional. We have a responsibility to engage with those we lead in ways that make space for them to experience and lay claim to I AM ENOUGH. We must recognize the uniqueness of those around us and avoid the ease of same treatment instead of choosing the impetus of equal treatment. Like Brian's grandmother, we have the opportunity to remind others that they are special and to disregard standard measures of success that are insufficient to embrace the full potential of each individual we lead. We can encourage and honor the differences among us and trust in our leadership to keep those we lead, working together towards common goals.
As espoused in "The Opposite of More is Enough, " I AM ENOUGH is an invitation to live your life free of the terms and conditions that others try to impose. It is an invitation to trust in yourself and pursue your vision and purpose regardless of what others say and choose. It is not belligerence. It is not confrontational. It merely lays claim to your true path without the need to respond to conventional thinking.
In a world filled with siren songs to conform, compare, and chase, it is easy to stay trapped and trap others in a self-limiting loop. I agree with Oprah and her sage guests; it is possible to break out of this loop. When we focus on our gifts, gain clarity about our purpose, and trust in ourselves, those self-imposed limits dissolve. I AM ENOUGH is an invitation to power, to possibility, to a life lived fully.