I Re-Think, therefore, I Am

When the same thing comes up 3 or 4 times in a short period, I believe it’s the Universe (or God or you’re the Collective Unconscious) telling you something. Since it’s the week of Halloween (from the Celtic holiday Samhain), Dia de los Muertos, and All Souls Day, perhaps it was an ancestor telling me to pay attention.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

So, what is this recurring message?

I’d say the theme is, ‘change your thoughts, change your experience.’

First, my friend and talented sales coach, Liz Wendling, posted a short comment yesterday. “You become a master of your life when you learn now to control where your attention goes. Value what you give your energy and time to.” This resonated with me because as I’ve gotten to know leaders who I find inspiring and authentic, I’ve learned they do this. When I do it consistently, when I live and lead with values-alignment, meaningful conversations, relationships and work fill up my days.

Next, in my email feed, the Daily Om was on thoughts. Here’s an excerpt; the bold is personal emphasis. “During the day, we can monitor our thoughts to see if we’re investing our energy where it is useful. Our thoughts are powerful forces in the creation of our experience of life. You may be able to recall a time when frustration that was based on a misunderstanding completely evaporated when your understanding changed. This is because our interpretation defines our experience, and it can change in an instant. …rather than merely accepting that life is happening to us, we can harness the power of our thoughts to actively create a positive reality.  Throughout the day, we can monitor our thoughts to catch ourselves in the middle of investing our energy elsewhere – such as into belief in limitations – and instead pull our focus back to the possibilities of the present. …By choosing how to interpret and define each moment with your thoughts, you can truly create your reality.

Then, as I clipped into my spin bike in the basement, instead of Bruce Springsteen I listened to a Blink on the book Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield, a registered dietician. In discussing self-talk and self-judgment around food and exercise, she said, “The trick is to remind yourself that thoughts aren’t necessarily true. …In other words, just because you think something, doesn’t mean you should let it control your behavior. Effective people doubt themselves all the time, but they don’t let that stop them.”

In college philosophy class, I resisted the René Descartes notion, “I think, therefore I am.” I was certain we humans we’re more than our thoughts. Since then, neuroscience has discovered that in less than one second, a thought we produce directs our brain to release hormones like cortisol if we’re under stress and serotonin if our thoughts are positive. We literally ‘embody’ those hormones, with behaviors and performance that give away how those thoughts make us feel. Like most complicated topics, the answer isn’t one or the other, it’s both. Yes, thoughts do literally change our actions and experience of life, and, yes, it’s our ability to observe our thoughts (metacognition), and if we don’t agree then intentionally change those thoughts, that allow us to choose who we are and how we show up.

Scritchfield uses the acronym PACT as a tool for her clients to change negative thoughts – Presence, Acceptance, Choice and Taking action. In essence, notice the thought, accept the fact that you have negative thoughts, choose what to do with it, and act on your choice. Two things stand out to me about PACT – acceptance and choice. As Americans, we have no issue with action or doing, yet acceptance and intentional choice don’t come as easy. 

My coach, Cathy Hawk, regularly says, “there’s no making right or wrong here.” I love that level of acceptance and how it diffuses judgment. I don’t know about you, but when I realize I’m judging, I’m much better at giving acceptance and grace to others than to myself. Awareness and acceptance open the door to choose. Cathy and the many Get Clarity tools have guided me at choice points to what energizes me. Helping clients reframe negative or limiting thoughts into positive and expansive beliefs about themselves definitely energizes me. It’s where the magic happens.

My first visceral memory of guiding someone to an ‘aha’ choice point was a graduate student in a leadership class I taught. She described herself as a fighter, a helpful skill as a community advocate, but it wasn’t serving her as she moved up the organization. Her story was that this resulted from her uncle teaching her to box as a child. She realized that while being a fighter protected her as a girl and was valuable when addressing injustice, it didn’t have to define her. Fighter became one of many tools in her toolbelt, she could deploy it or select a more relevant skill, the choice was hers.

I’m currently working on leadership transition with an executive who’s enjoyed a successful corporate career. When we discussed limiting beliefs and imposter syndrome this summer, he described not being seen or heard in childhood. His story was that this stemmed from being a middle child. This later manifested as someone who managed by walking around, popping in to check on what people need, giving everyone on his team a voice. It may also have influenced another regular thought, that he’s a great #2. After unpacking that, he recognized he was comfortable as #2, and that he was the only one holding him back from pursuing a CEO role. Interestingly, a few weeks after opening to a CEO position, its appeal faded. Instead, something that initially seemed far on the horizon has moved to the forefront.

Reframing our thoughts liberates us with the gifts of experiencing more of our potential.

Yet just because you know something, doesn’t mean you do it.

I know this firsthand because I’ve struggled with negative thoughts all year. As a business owner you’re constantly selling yourself. I’m one of the few solopreneurs I know who enjoys biz development. Yet the story I told myself was that even though I had my strongest year in 2020, because of COVID I wouldn’t be able to secure new smaller contracts in 2021 to complement my amazing longtime clients. And guess what happened? I got exactly what I told myself. As not getting new clients consumed my attention, I got anxious, and allowed these unchecked thoughts to shift me into a place of scarcity.

While I was aware of this and working on it, I was also preparing to co-present a session at the Housing Colorado Conference. My long-time clients are in food and healthcare, two of the most stabilizing Social Determinants of Health next to housing, so this was strategic and timely.  I observed the quantity of negative thoughts rise before the conference – and called my friend Liz Wendling to remind me of what we both knew. She was terrific and gave me a few new phrases for retooling that I’ve used every morning since, and a few times each day during the conference.  While I helped my healthcare client secure $5.6 million in contributions and low-interest loans to get them to their NMTC closing as the anchor institution in a mixed-use affordable housing project, housing was still new to me. It was normal to be anxious and being uncomfortable meant I was in a place to grow.

Fast forward a month to this morning. I was in bed and told my husband that while he showered, I was awake focusing on and appreciating things about the last two days. One of my favorite people at client firm who I no longer directly work with is now joining me in a meeting next week. A colleague I reconnected with at the conference thinks I’d be the perfect to facilitate a project for her housing authority, and while she’s not the project lead she will recommend me. The building blocks of a digital tool I’ve been kicking around for a year came together in a surprising way over the last few days, and I just shared it with a CEO friend for feedback.

While none of these are monumental, focusing on them made me feel grateful that things were working out for me, that I have more than enough, and that things are unfolding beyond what I imagined. In other words, while changing my thoughts hasn’t changed anything (yet), it has changed everything.   

What is one thought, just one thought, you could reframe today? 

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