Marisa Peer and her TEDx Talk ‘To reach beyond your limits by training your mind’ inspired me to write this article.
Uncertainty breeds fear, and fear is a natural human response. More often than not, what we don’t know is how to use our mind to our advantage. We are not particularly skilled at collaborating with our mind, aren’t we? Honestly, how easy is it for you to stir your inner conversation in a direction that results in positive feelings?
These days, you get sucked into a news feed vortex in an instant only to find yourself spit out on the other side, feeling anxious, confused and discouraged.
If you do not create and control your environment, your environment creates and controls you.
— Dr. Marshall Goldsmith
If we want to change how we experience the world, if we don’t want to be victims of the newsfeed vortex anymore, we need to stop for a minute and ask ourselves ‘What do I need to do to think, feel and act differently?’. Most importantly, ‘How can I empower myself to make conscious choices that keep me informed AND positive?’
When we learn how the mind works, we finally regain the power to make good decisions. When we make good decisions, we feel good about ourselves and more confident about our future. When we are optimistic about the future, we have hope. This is what we need badly right now, and we need it because the only other option left is despair and we want to stay away from that, don’t we?
The great news is that you can train your mind to give you precisely what you want. The mind is not as complicated as we think. What you need is understanding how it works and then use it to your advantage. How do I know this? I know this because I use these two rules to create hope and purpose-driven action for myself, even amid the chaos out there.
#1 Rule of the mind: “The way you feel about anything is only down to two things: the pictures you make in your head and the words that you say to yourself” Marisa Peer
A few weeks ago, on a Saturday morning, I was out for the grocery shopping. I went to the same supermarket where I always go every week, but something was different. I didn’t feel any joy. I wasn’t looking forward to enjoying the new season fruit and vegetable assortment. I wasn’t looking forward to the smell of freshly-baked bread. I was scared.
I had said to my husband “I am ready for the challenge! I am ready to face the fear and win. Seriously, I can do this no problem!”. I was wrong.
When I entered the parking lot, I was thinking “Oh no, there are too many cars and too many people. Why am I here? What nonsense to pick 11 am on a Saturday! It was a terrible decision. Should I drive back home right now? I mean, right now.” The anxiety was just starting to creep in. I had crossed the front door, saying boldly to myself “Come on, you can do this, you are strong!”. I was in, and I didn’t feel safe or bold.
I was looking around, attentively scanning the environment for potential risks. My mind was busy with two meters of physical distancing calculations, avoiding any chance of proximity with human bodies, obsessing with the risk of not wearing a mask and touching products and surfaces that might have been contaminated. What I was thinking and feeling didn’t have anything to do with a fun shopping experience. It felt more like a tour in the hospital! That’s why I was feeling so anxious. That’s why I was so close to having a panic attack, and I never had one in my life before.
The way you feel about anything is down to two things: the pictures you make in your head and the words that you say to yourself. There is nothing else. You can never have a direct experience of the world as it is. You can only experience the world through your thoughts and feelings.
Why did I feel so anxious in the supermarket? Because of my inner conversation. My words were not making a picture of shopping experience. They were more making a picture of a hospital! It is no surprise that all I could experience was anxiety and a need to run away from that place as fast as possible.
Now that we know how our thoughts create our feelings, what can we do to change our experience of the world? If playing bold doesn’t work, what works instead?
Change your words, change your life.
Many people are still feeding their minds with the news, all day long. When you are feeding your mind with words and pictures that evoke sadness, frustration, fear, this is what takes residency in you. You are giving those emotions food in the form of thoughts. What’s the solution? Starve those emotions. Stop giving them food. It is that simple!
Establish clear rules for newsfeed consumption. Yes, you need to be informed, but not about everything and not every minute of the day. You have the power to choose where to focus your attention and your energy. My personal choice is to focus only on what I need to know to make informed decisions for myself and my family, right now. For example, do we have to wear masks? If so, where, how and when? It is all I need to know.
My choice is to keep the conversation with myself and with my family on a practical, present time field. We don’t say “Oh my God, for how long this nightmare will go on?”. Instead, we choose to say “I am OK with not knowing if we will go on holidays in June. Look at how bright and warm the sun is today. We are all together, we are healthy and hey, can you listen to the birds singing in the trees?”.
Another empowering decision that we have made as a family is removing the words that describe the illness. We replaced those words with ‘thing‘. For example, my son would say “When the ‘thing’ will be over, I will play with my friends again.” Why did we replace it with ‘thing’? Because ‘thing’ does not make any picture! With no image, there are no feelings attached to the word. It is neutral. A thing cannot scare anyone. When you take away the name and the picture of something, it doesn’t have any more power over your feelings.
I am a leader. How can I apply rule #1 with my team?
We all need some extra care and support from our manager these days. If you are a leader, you need to remind yourself that every single word that you say creates a picture in the mind of your team members. The funny thing is that you don’t know what image gets formed in their minds because their past life experiences are different from yours. So, while you have zero control over how your team members make meaning of what you say, you can be sure that positive, exciting, descriptive words will make some kind of positive and compelling picture in their minds. For example, if you say “Despite the challenges that we are currently facing, this week our team performance has been better than expected”. How do you feel reading this sentence? Do you experience any emotional response at all? Probably not. Why? Because these words are too general. They don’t make any picture in your mind!
If you want your team members to feel great about their work, begin to use descriptive, exciting words. For example, you could say instead: “Despite being on a rollercoaster these days, I can see that you have put in a tremendous effort. You have listened deeply to our clients’ needs and concerns. As a result, the graph shows that our performance improved by 2% vs the previous week. You are building our future success every day, with laser focus and unshakable determination. I couldn’t be more proud of you!” Feeling excited? I do.
If you want to go the extra mile, you can further support your team members playing a simple mood booster game. Ask everyone on the team to pick a song that makes them feel energized. Invite them to share a song lyric that they find inspiring and exciting. I know this activity might sound a bit silly, but your mind believes everything you say. When you use powerful, compelling words, your brain makes you feel as you want to feel! By encouraging your team members to focus their attention on what makes them feel great and energized, you are helping them to recharge and get excited about the day ahead.
#2 Rule of the mind: “Your mind loves what is familiar” Marisa Peer
Two-thirds of Americans felt anxious, depressed, lonely or helpless last week. I believe that most of the world population is experiencing the same levels of anxiety right now.
A week ago, I watched a vulnerable story posted on LinkedIn by Mel Robbins. In the video, Mel talks about an anxiety attack that she was going through that morning, after moving with her family to Vermont from her home outside Boston. As a family, they thought that a change of scenery would have been helpful for their psyche, after five weeks of quarantine. What happened then? Why wasn’t a stunning scenery having the soothing effect that she expected? Why was anxiety creeping in after five years of silence? Because Mel felt removed from her normal life. Being away from her normal life ‘scared the hell out of me’, she says. For Mel Robbins, being physically far away from home was a reminder that she was struggling to stay focused, to work on her own, to work remotely and not to be around many people. The emotional struggle expressed itself in the form of anxiety.
Now that you understand the #1 rule of the mind, can you guess how the experience of anxiety got created in the body? I bet you know it by now. The answer is through the power of thought. In this story, we can see a chain of thoughts with a common denominator: struggle. When we say that we are struggling, that it is hard to cope, that we can’t deal with the circumstances, we have an emotional response. What does the mind do to move you away from the struggle? It makes you feel anxious. You feel so bad that the only option available is withdrawing from the cause of the struggle.
Remember my story at the supermarket? The anxiety got created by thoughts like “I can’t cope, I am struggling, this isn’t normal”. If you think these thoughts, if you speak to yourself in this way every day, anxiety will catch you in no time and it won’t let you go because it is trying to protect you from the unknown that you say is a struggle. Anxiety will make you withdraw from the circumstances while making you feel powerless and hopeless at the same time.
How can we cope better with uncertainty and with the challenges that we might have to face, right now?
- Be your best friend. Give yourself the same compassion and kindness that you would give to your best friend. When you begin to love yourself like your best friend, you will notice that compassion and kindness are always available to you. There is no need to chase them out there if you already have them in here.
- Let the storm pass. Name the emotions that you are feeling and process them through your body. Anxiety is an emotion, and emotions are energy in motion. As you soon as the anxiety is creeping in, walk it off and breath it out! Let it go out of your body with some form of physical exercise and deep breathing.
- Remind yourself of all the things in your life that are still the same. In times of uncertainty, give yourself as much certainty as you can, by focussing your attention – your self-talk – on what is familiar. For example, you might say to yourself: ‘I am still having breakfast with my family, I am going to bed at the same time, I still love watching that TV show once a week, I am still exercising every day’. Give yourself as much ‘normality’ as possible, by telling your mind that certainty is still available to you and that you have the power to create more if you wish to do so.
- Ask for help. You don’t have to deal with your struggles alone. If you need assistance, a qualified mental health professional can provide you with support and coping strategies.
I am a leader. How can I apply rule #2 with my team?
Two days ago, the Irish government published a roadmap to phase out the lockdown over the next few months. It was as if someone had lifted a heavy curtain from the window after months of darkness. After weeks of pausing, waiting and holding our breath, we can see a glimpse of light. We have some degree of certainty.
If you are in a leadership role, people are looking up at you when they need reassurance. They need to know that you have their back, at all times. They need to know that you will do everything you can to keep them safe. When we feel safe, we are more willing to share openly what is going on and what we need.
In these times of uncertainty, your team needs to feel safe more than ever. They need to know that their insecurities, anxieties and personal circumstances will not be held against them when you evaluate their performance. They need to know that you will be open and honest about the current situation, even when the only thing you can say is “I don’t know.” Your team members need to be seen and heard like never before. They want to hear that they matter and that their contribution is appreciated, even when job security might not be there. Every single act of compassionate acknowledgement will be seen as a sign of authentic leadership.
In more practical terms, how can I create more certainty and safety in my team?
- Demonstrate integrity by walking your talk. Now that many of us are working remotely, you cannot afford to say one thing and do another one. Trust must be the number one priority because any inconsistency will be noticed and pointed out at light speed.
- Be crystal clear and honest about what you know, and about what you don’t know at all times.
- If possible, keep your 1:1 and team meetings with the same cadence as before, or increase them as required. Your team needs more care and attention when working remotely, and a predictable rhythm is a very effective way for you to demonstrate responsibility and to create certainty.
Uncertainty doesn’t have to be a curse. We can use the rules of the mind to change the tone of the conversation that we have with ourselves and with anyone else. When the intention of creating hope leads the conversation, anxiety will have less and less power over you and the people you love.
About the author
Linda Scotti is a Leadership Coach and Rapid Transformational Therapist. Her mission is to inspire purpose-driven leaders to create greatness and joy for themselves and their teams. She loves using her skills and experience to make the world a place where everyone feels empowered to express their unique strengths and live their life to the fullest. Connect with Linda on LinkedIn or visit her website lindascotti.com
All views and posts are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer.