The average person is believed to have between 25,000 to 50,000 thoughts per day of which 70-80% are believed to be negative.
If those numbers are true for most of us, then we are basically walking through a mental minefield of energy-sucking negativity traps that can derail us from not just pursuing our goals, but also from just having a good day.
So what can we do?
We need to take ownership of our thoughts and create an environment between our ears where we can grow and prosper despite sailing through a storm of negativity, fear and doubt that at times can cripple our present and future.
Let’s choose to not just weather the storm but to reshape the landscape of our mind to drastically decrease that 70-80% of negative thoughts.
As mentioned above, the negative tendencies of our minds can make navigating the new and even familiar experiences a challenge – packing them with fear, self-doubt and anxiety.
A few years ago, when I started with my new firm and client, I was eager to hit the ground running and immediately prove my worth. I knew I was smart and had a wealth of skills and experiences, yet there was still a sense of self-doubt and fear whenever I walked into a meeting room.
I found myself in a series of interesting and strategy-focused discussions – all great opportunities to make my mark. However, throughout the meeting I was agonizing over how to perfectly craft a comment or thought so I didn’t embarrass myself among the group.
Well, I didn’t embarrass myself…
Not because I ended up crafting that perfect response, but rather because I never ended up saying a word.
By the time I thought I was ready to speak up, the conversation already moved on, or someone else tossed out the idea I was working through in my head.
After the meeting I continued to agonize over why I didn’t speak up, and this trend continued for some time. The mental storm was raging.
Truth is, I was afraid. Rather than speaking up, I was battling a fear of sounding dumb, losing credibility, making a bad impression, or being a poor representation of my new firm. I was so worried about what others would think.
Yes, this negative headspace surrounding my new position started to decrease as I became more comfortable in the new environment along with a ton of help from my professional coach. However I wasted so much time and so many opportunities to make an impact during those initial weeks and months.
So how can we take control of our headspace today and make an immediate impact ‘on the field’?
Get real about your fear…
As I think through my experiences over the years and analyze the types of limiting or negative thoughts that hold me back from being my best, I’ve found what I believe are some common fears that we all need to acknowledge, accept and battle if we are going to quiet the craziness in our heads.
These are the fears of:
- the uncontrollable
- not being good enough / failure
- what other people think
So how do we combat these fears? Let’s talk about each, and I’ll give you some recommendations and advice that helped me fight back.
Fear of forgetting
We are all busy people, and often it feels like we are juggling way too many balls at once… something is going to drop. Often, this causes us to get hit with this sense that we are forgetting something. Maybe we did forget something, or maybe we didn’t – it really doesn’t matter. The problem is this internal lack of trust that results in anxiety and a negative headspace.
Sound familiar? Let’s fix it!
Years ago I read David Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done.” A large focus of this book is about creating a ‘trusted system’. This system is what you use to get all of the to-do’s and actions out of your head and in a trusted location where you can take your next action on them at the appropriate time.
This system can be as simple as a piece of paper or notebook that you use to write these items in as soon as they pop in your head. Personally, I use Wunderlist to track all of my items across my personal and work life. Whenever something pops in my head I throw it into Wunderlist via the app on my phone or laptop. If it has a due date I’ll mark it and categorize it, otherwise I’ll revisit later. Either way, that item is in my trusted system in 30 seconds or less!
It takes some time to build the discipline, and once you do, you can begin to create peace of mind that you actually are not forgetting anything because it’s already in your trusted system! Decide what your trusted system will be and start implementing today!
Fear / worrying about what you can’t control
We all worry about things, and let’s not pretend we can ever stop ourselves from doing that. Worrying isn’t actually a bad thing. We need to be aware of threats, blind spots or other things that can derail us from who we want to be or what we want to do.
What we can do is be more effective when it comes to discerning between what we can and cannot control. The first part of the famous Serenity Prayer says it best:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
So while we work on obtaining that serenity, I want to suggest another approach to help us in the meantime! The Impact / Control Matrix!
The Impact / Control Matrix helps you to weigh and categorize the challenges that you are faced with based on how much this ‘thing’ impacts you as well as how much control you actually have over it.
In short, the things that impact you the most and you have the most control over should be a no-brainer to knock out. On the other hand, the things that impact us the least and we have little to no control over should be acknowledged and discarded. We shouldn’t waste another second working on or thinking about them.
So the next time you are faced with a new challenge or something that is keeping you up at night, apply this tool to give yourself a better idea of what to do next (if anything!).
Fear of not being good enough / fear of failure
Being ‘good enough’ at something is always going to be a struggle until we take control of those voices in our head that are casting doubt on what we can and want to do. Too many of us (myself included) have stories that run through our head telling us all the reasons why we won’t succeed.
The solution? Become the author of your stories!
Yes, rewrite your internal stories. We first have to acknowledge these stories exist and make the decision to rewrite them.
Create and recite mantras that are positive and uplifting. Use them to cite all the reasons you can and will be successful as opposed to all the reasons you won’t be! Replace all the reasons you aren’t good enough with all the reasons you absolutely are good enough, and sooner or later they will resonate in your subconscious and become your new story.
Another tool I heard about from famous author and podcaster, Tim Ferriss, is around “Fear Setting” and is discussed in one of his Ted Talks. I highly recommended checking out the talk, but if you aren’t able to, the key points of the process are as follows:
- Write down something that you are thinking of doing (creating a business, taking a trip, asking for a promotion, etc.)
- On a blank page, create a column where you list all the bad things that could happen if you do this thing (the define phase)
- Next to the first column, create another column and answer what you can do to prevent or lessen the likelihood of each of the items that could go wrong (the prevent phase)
- Then, in the event the ‘could go wrong’ scenario does happen, create a column to answer what you could do to fix the problem or lessen the impact (the repair phase)
- On a blank page, brainstorm all of the benefits that can come from a success or partial success of doing the thing you are considering
- Finally on another page, chart out the ‘cost of inaction‘ – write out what your life would look like in the next 6 months, 1 year and 3 years if you don’t do anything and maintain the status quo – what would you be missing out on?
Take a look at everything you wrote down and I would guess the benefits and potential upside will far outweigh all the possible bad stuff that will likely never come to pass.
Fear of what other people think
I wish it wasn’t true, yet on some level most of us do care what other people think. We want to be accepted and welcomed within our family, peer groups, teams and organizations.
As a result, we may be guilty of changing and conforming to the norms of some of these groups to ensure we fit in. We sacrifice a bit of who we are and what we stand for out of fear of being rejected.
We may be welcomed into some of those groups, but at what cost, and what mental/emotional storm begins to brew as a result?
“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” – Oscar Wilde
Honestly, I can’t really recommend a tool to helps us deal with the fear of what other people think. I wish I could! However, I will urge all of you to live your life based on your purpose and values and let that drive the groups you become associated with and the circles that you frequent.
Be you and be the best you possible.
As you live your life your way and true to yourself, what other people think begins to matter less and less, and you will naturally find more people that share your values to build relationships with.
Post Game Huddle
Our minds will continue to be that storm of negativity and clutter until we choose to take control.
Let’s make that choice to take action and create an environment where our best thoughts, ideas and goals can live and thrive to help us chart a better future for ourselves and those around us.
Don’t be the ‘average person’ stuck in that storm tens of thousands of negative thoughts. Rise above the clouds and live a life of positivity, clarity and prosperity.
Discussion Question: What fear area stirs up the biggest negativity storms in your head? Create a plan to begin to take away that storm’s power and own your headspace!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."